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BSE Update

Published: Apr 27, 2012
While the investigation into the BSE finding in California is ongoing, USMEF staff around the world will continue to provide updates from their countries with an insider’s perspective on how this situation is viewed from their standpoint.

Although the initial announcement has passed, there is a continuing need for communication and education to reassure trading partners of the safety of U.S. beef. USMEF staff are engaged with government officials, importers, food service, retail and media to help ensure an accurate portrayal of the situation and to maximize opportunities for continued and expanded product access and sale.

Following is a snapshot of the situation in several of USMEF’s key markets:

Central America
USMEF sources note that there are no new restrictions or import requirements regarding U.S. beef in Costa Rica, Dominical Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras or Nicaragua.

Panamanian government officials reportedly had discussed revoking access for U.S. beef, but no new restrictions or import requirements for U.S. beef have been imposed at this time.

The Chinese government has been quiet with no public comments or references to the case linking beef access negotiation or dairy products imports from the U.S., and the market and consumers have remained calm.

Several major online news portals and newspaper outlets repeated what have been said in major U.S. media outlets. Several reported the ban of U.S. beef imports by Indonesia today, with only one report linking Chinese beef consumption with the BSE case, stating that Chinese does not consume much U.S. beef due to a lack of market access.

Hong Kong
Major Hong Kong retailers have continued to sell U.S. beef and have indicated to USMEF that they intend to do so as long as governmental authorities do not change access conditions.

Retailers report a moderate to heavy flow of inquiries from consumers, with many focused on the question of whether BSE can be transmitted through milk, which is of particular interest as imports of U.S. milk have increased considerably in the past few years.

USMEF is continuing to run prescheduled promotions this week with retailers, but sales are reported to be slow.

Media coverage of the case has been moderate and balanced, drawing from international wire services, with some mentions of Korea’s increased inspections and Indonesia’s ban on imports. A Hong Kong government official was quoted in one media source as stating that there was no need at the current time to ban imports based on information provided to date by U.S. health authorities.

To help ensure that importers and retailers have accurate information, USMEF sent out a special bilingual U.S. Meat Bulletin to all major contacts.

USMEF anticipates only a short (less than a month) negative commercial impact from the finding, assuming that media attention to the issue fades within the next week and no additional cases are found.

The response from Japanese media has been very balanced and subdued, and coverage of the story has virtually ceased. In addition, no consumer organizations publicized any concerns on Thursday or Friday.

Several of USMEF’s blogger contacts have commented positively, reminding their readers not to over-react to media reports. There were 3,697 Twitter postings related to the BSE case on April 25. That dropped to 944 tweets on the 26th and 451 by mid-day Friday.

USMEF has remained in constant contact with its governmental contacts, scientific experts and media, providing them with factsheets and other information. Those experts have made positive public statements that the system in the U.S. is working with no specific concerns. While these sources point out that the United States needs to complete its investigation into this atypical case, they remain positive regarding the situation and the actions taken by the U.S. government.

The Japanese meat trade remains positive and cooperative. None of USMEF’s trade partner have pulled or cancelled sales or promotions of U.S. beef. In fact, one major retailer reported that a promotion this week was so successful that it had to source additional products.

Several retail outlets, such as consumer coops, have expressed some concerns about the BSE finding. USMEF has provided them with background information and talking points.

Both media reports and statements from government officials on the BSE finding have been factual. Mexico is respecting the OIE guidance with respect to trade in beef. No new trade restrictions have been imposed and none are anticipated in the near future.

There have been no statements on the issue from official Russian channels, which is viewed as a positive. Reports on the BSE story are fading from the media. At this point, there are no indications of any restrictions on U.S. beef access.

South Korea
The government of South Korea has continued to follow current science and maintain access for U.S. beef imports, although Minister Kyu-yong Suh of the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries noted that “for the safety of our people, however, we will expand the ratio of meat inspection to 50 percent for U.S. beef.”

At the retail level, sales of U.S. beef declined with the BSE announcement. As of 3 p.m. on the 26th, sales of U.S. beef at both major retailers Emart and Homeplus were down about 50 percent compared to the previous week.

USMEF has been extremely active on the retail and food service front, visiting with all major accounts that have featured U.S. beef. While one retail chain has temporarily suspended sales of U.S. beef, several others decided to continue sales after receiving input from USMEF staff along with factsheets on the BSE finding and actions taken by the U.S. government.

USMEF has monitored Korean social media, noting that there were about 40,000 Twitter and blog postings on the first day (April 25) and an estimated 60,000 the next day. Negative postings outnumbered positive ones more than two to one, although the focus of the posts has been on the Korean government’s response to the situation and public health. However, USMEF remains vigilant to reports of a possible candlelight vigil by consumer groups and farmers in early May.

USMEF staff in Taiwan report that media coverage of the BSE case has been heavy, with the story appearing on the front page of major dailies for the past two days. Reporting ranges from neutral to sensationalistic.

One subject matter expert, National Taiwan University public hygiene specialist Chan Chang-chuan, said the government failed to take a consistent approach to the beef issue. On ractopamine and leanness agents, he noted that it wants to exceed international standards while, on the BSE issue, it first looked at what other countries are doing before determining its stance.

Local reporting has focused on the issue of how the BSE finding will impact deliberations on ractopamine. The Legislative Yuan’s Health, Environment and Social Welfare committee suspended deliberations on ractopamine following the BSE announcement. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) opposed the move, and called on the government to order a complete recall of all U.S. beef in the market, ban all imports and suspend all ongoing customs inspection of U.S. beef at ports. That proposal was narrowly defeated in the legislature.

Commercially, the latest finding will have little impact since beef imports have slowed to a trickle due to complications at ports, cold storages and in the marketplace. Key accounts will continue to sell U.S. beef as long as the market remains open. Importer/distributor stocks remain heavy, given the reticence of both distributors and end-users to move beef into the marketplace, where testing continues and fines can be assessed on the importer if positives are found.

It is expected that deliberations on the ractopamine issue will not reconvene until Taiwan authorities have received a full epidemiological report on the BSE finding.

While promotions in the Taiwan market have been limited in recent weeks, USMEF has continued its outreach with food safety seminars in Taichung (middle Taiwan) and Taipei. While the focus of the seminars has been on the pharmaceutical approval process in the U.S. and the standard-setting process in the Codex, USMEF has provided both audiences with a brief update on the BSE case.