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Mon, Dec 29, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Japanese not ruffled by beef scare: meat exporter


Japanese consumers, the biggest overseas buyers of US beef, are showing less concern amid the US mad cow scare compared with two years when Japanese cattle were stricken, a U.S meat export official said.

Consumer concerns about domestic beef safety in 2001 crippled sales at supermarkets and restaurants that specialize in popular beef bowl fast-food meals of meat on rice.

``People seem to be calm, some stores are still selling US beef, and there are many people still eating beef bowl,'' Shinobu Shimada, consumer affairs manager for the US Meat Export Federation, said in Tokyo. ``It's not the same as before because I think the consumer understands'' regular meat cuts don't pose a threat, she said.

Japan buys about $1.8 billion of US beef a year, according to a statement from the US Embassy in Tokyo. Overseas markets accounted for about 10 percent of US beef sales before every large export market, including South Korea and Mexico, the biggest after Japan, banned US imports over the last week.

In Japan, wholesale prices for Japanese domestically raised beef yesterday rose by between 12 percent and 15 percent compared with prices on Tuesday, before the mad cow case was found, the Mainichi newspaper said, citing data from the Japan Meat Market Wholesaler's Association's data.

Pork demand is also rising as an alternative to beef, the report said. Pork wholesale prices rose 34 percent in Tokyo and 19 percent in Osaka compared with Tuesday's prices, and retail prices may eventually increase, the report said.

The US, seeking to reopen sales to Japan, is sending a team led by David Hegwood, a special adviser to the US agriculture secretary, to Tokyo to meet with officials tomorrow.

The US$175 billion-a-year US beef industry, the world's largest exporter of beef and related products, may face billions of dollars in losses should consumers continue balking at beef.

Shares of Yoshinoya D&C Ltd, Japan's largest operator of beef-bowl, or gyudon, outlets, rose 2 percent to ?153,000 on Friday after falling 12 percent in the two days after report of the infected US cow. Shares of McDonald's Holdings Co Japan, half-owned by McDonald's Corp, fell 2.9 percent to ?2,020, bringing its three-day losses to 10 percent. The stocks fell 16 percent and 15 percent respectively in 2001 in the three days following the first news of an infected cow.

Masauyuki Ito, a 24-year-old office worker, ate a Teriyaki burger at a McDonald's in the Marunouchi business district of Tokyo, saying he was unlikely to refrain from eating beef from the US or other countries. The McDonald's had a sign indicating the origin of the meat.

"It was Australian beef, but I don't really care where it comes from," said Ito, who said he doesn't often eat burgers but he does eat at yakiniku barbecue restaurants twice a month.

"It's a really complicated issue for consumers," said the US Meat Export Federation's Shimada, who declined to say when she thought Japan's import ban might be lifted.

"A lot depends on what we can do over the next couple of days," she said.

Japan on Friday said it would ask retailers to recall products with US beef ingredients that pose a potential risk.

Ito-Yokado Co, Japan's largest store operator, said Friday it plans to continue selling US beef it has in stock, though it will display the meat separately from domestic beef.

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