The recent reports about faulty Toyota products have brought to the forefront a critical disconnect between the United States and a valuable ally, Japan. On one hand, Japan expects the U.S. to be patient and keep our borders open to Japanese cars and car parts. Yet Japan has for seven years shown our beef producers less than fair treatment. In fact, Japan has utterly disregarded scientific evidence and good faith by shuttering its borders to American beef. We cannot continue to allow Japan to treat our beef producers unfairly.
On Dec. 23, 2003, one cow was discovered in the United States to be infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). Although the animal had actually been born in Canada, Japan and other countries closed their borders to U.S. beef almost immediately. Our beef exports to Japan dropped from $1.4 billion in 2003 to less than $3 million in 2004 --a drop of 99.8 percent. Japan has since relaxed that ban somewhat, but our exports are still limited to boneless beef 20 months or younger. This limit is arbitrary, not based on scientific principles, and is little more than a direct economic sanction.
In the late 1980s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture implemented a system of safeguards to ensure the safety of American beef. After the 2003 BSE discovery, we added new layers of interlocking safeguards.
These efforts paid off. In 2007, the World Organization for Animal Health -- the internationally recognized standard-setting body, also known as OIE -- classified the United States as a "controlled risk" country for BSE. This classification confirms that because of the expansive system of safeguards we have in place, U.S. beef is safe for export and consumption. And yet, the Japanese still restrict most U.S. beef products without any scientific basis. While market access has improved somewhat, exports still lag significantly. From 2004 through 2009, U.S. beef exports to Japan averaged roughly $196 million per year, less than 15 percent of the amount we sold to Japan in 2003.
Contrast this situation with recent reports that faulty Toyota parts have led to unsafe cars. If the U.S. were to follow Japan's example, we might consider banning all Japanese carmakers from exporting to the United States. That is essentially what Japan has done to our beef for nearly seven years, even though we've proven its safety time and time again.
To be clear, I am not suggesting we ban Japanese car imports. I am suggesting that it's time for Japan to reevaluate its position on American beef and start treating us fairly. I raised this point with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at a recent hearing on the Toyota situation. He agreed and assured me he will be making this point to the Japanese. I also recently met with the Japanese Ambassador and expressed the same concerns. I pointed out this disconnect between the policies and urged my friends from Japan to reopen their markets to American beef. I will continue to press the Japanese, the Obama Administration, and my Senate colleagues to insist that American beef producers receive the fair treatment they have earned.