Talks with trade negotiators have apparently produced an agreement for Japan to begin buying U.S. beef again. Up till 2003, that Asian nation was the number-one foreign buyer of our beef, and Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson says Japanese inspectors had approved some plants to process meat when exports resumed briefly earlier this year. The Tyson plant in Denison is one of those.

Mickelson says each of Tyson’s nine beef plants across the country had previously been approved to produce meat for export to Japan, and he says over the next four weeks their inspectors will audit those and other plants in this country, “to verify the effectiveness of the U.S. inspection system.”

After a brief resumption early this year, the exports abruptly halted once again after spinal tissue was found in a box of beef sent to Japan, a violation of one of the rules they’d set up.

Mickelson says it was a plant out east that made the costly goof, not one here in the Midwest. He says the new agreement is encouraging. If everything goes as planned, he says US companies like Tyson could resume shipping beef to Japan by early August. While it’s good news, Mickelson says Japan will only accept beef from cattle slaughtered at 20 months of age or younger, which will limit sales.

More rules have also been added since Japan last bought beef from U.S. producers on a large scale. There are some new documentation requirements U-S-D-A put in place a few months ago, to make sure the proper product is being exported by U.S. plants, and Mickelson says other measures include future unannounced audits by Japanese and US inspectors of approved plants.

In 2003, American beef producers sold about one-point-four billion dollars worth of beef to Japanese customers. That was about three-point-six percent of the beef produced in the country that year. The Iowa Beef Industry Council says Iowa ranks fifth among the states in fed-cattle production.