Exports of U.S. beef to Japan, halted more than a year ago because of a sole case of mad cow disease, will probably not resume until June or later, an official with a U.S. meat industry group said on Thursday.

"The best guess on Japan is probably June," said Phil Seng, chief executive of the U.S Meat Export Federation.
Also, a key decision in restoring that trade will be made in Japan on Tuesday when Japanese officials are expected to decide if they will accept a proposed U.S. age verification system for cattle, said Seng.

The age testing is important because Japan has insisted that it will accept only U.S. beef from cattle 20 months of age or younger.

"Next Tuesday is a very important date, because Japan is going to render a decision as far as whether they accept or not accept our A-40 maturity," said Seng, who spoke on the sidelines of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association convention that is under way here through Saturday.

The so-called A-40 is a carcass grading system that the U.S. Agriculture Department has proposed to determine the age of cattle.

"It is going to be a very, very close call as far as if that is going to be accepted or not," said Seng.

If it is not accepted, the cattle industry would possibly have to implement a record-keeping system that would trace the animal back to its birth, said Seng.

At a congressional hearing in Washington, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns was asked to assess the remaining hurdles to reopening Japan's market.

Johanns responded that it was now up to Tokyo's policymakers to decide on a date for resuming imports. "There's nothing more that we would possibly provide" to Japan, Johanns said. "I would say we've answered their technical questions. That's been going on for 13 months."

Additional approval procedures in Japan would likely delay a resumption of U.S. beef shipments until June, even if the age verification issue is resolved, said Seng.

Source: Yahoo News