Lt. Governor Mike Foley says his recent trade mission to Japan convinces him that one of the state’s best trading partners could prove even more lucrative for Nebraska.
Japan buys a billion dollars in agricultural goods from Nebraska each year.
It would likely buy more if it weren’t for an incident in 2003 when the first case of BSE was discovered in the United States. BSE is short for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly known as mad cow disease. A handful of cases have arisen here and there since. None of the livestock confirmed with BSE entered the food chain.
The USDA and American agricultural groups have been quick to respond that its beef industry is safe, but concerns linger.
“They were buying a lot of beef from us, then that one mad cow got into the food chain,” Foley tells Nebraska Radio Network. “It never was exported to Japan, but anyway, they said, ‘Enough is enough. We’re not buying anymore. We’re done.’ And that was a real blow to the beef industry here in Nebraska.”
Foley led a delegation of 20 agricultural leaders during the trade mission to Japan. He says that allowed him to step out of the way and let actual beef producers discuss their operations.
Foley says that had two positive results: it reassured Japanese importers about the safety of Nebraska meat and it corrected misconceptions that American agricultural operates on an industrial level.
Safety is one thing. Money is another.
Foley says Japan buys a lot of grass-fed beef from Australia, simply because the tariffs are lower. He holds out hope that ratification of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement will lower tariffs on American goods flowing to the Pacific Rim and make Nebraska products more competitive.
Foley points out that while the typical diet of a typical Japanese person once consisted of fish and rice that no longer is the case. Higher personal incomes have led to more diversified diets and Foley says that changing diet opens the door for Nebraska corn-fed beef.
“We’re convinced that the trend that they’re on right now to buy and consume more meat is a very, very positive trend in terms of what we sell.”