Situation No Win?

A few quick thoughts I had while reading the following in the Japan Times:

In a document submitted to the Diet on Nov. 18 upon formal Cabinet approval, the government had pledged to send officials to check U.S. meet processors prior to resuming beef imports in December.

Without notifying the Diet, however, the government postponed the dispatch of officials to the United States, claiming it was found that inspections before imports were resumed would be impractical.

Nakagawa has been under fire from opposition parties for changing the dispatch plan without informing the Diet.

Now, I don’t often side with the GOJ on the beef issue. And I don’t know the details of what actually happened leading up to the government’s decision to postpone the dispatch of inspectors. However, it seems that Nakagawa might have been in an even worse pinch had inspectors been sent prior to the discovery of spinal matter in imported beef last month.

Sending inspectors to U.S. meat-processing facilities would have amounted to nothing more than a symbolic gesture at best. It would have been a signal to the Japanese public that the government is taking this problem seriously. But let’s face it – a few Japanese inspectors would not have prevented the gross negligence on the part of the United States that resulted in the re-imposition of the beef ban.

Their presence would, however, have distributed some of that negligence towards the Japanese government. Opposition parties, always eager to sink their teeth into LDP hide, would have then dismissed the government’s inspection measures as ineffective.

In hindsight, one has to ask which is worse for the government: having hidden the decision to delay sending the inspectors and having some spinal material show up in an imported veal shipment, or having sent the inspectors only to have the effort proven completely unsuccessful?

7 thoughts on “Situation No Win?”

  1. Well, what makes the government look even worse in my opinion is that it seems to be capitulating to both American agro interests and Japanese retail interests at the expense of the people (Of course, Nakagawa showing up DRUNK to the Diet doesn’t help matters either).

    The reason the Japanese government is in a no-win situation is because it’s become increasingly obvious that they aren’t worried if they screw their own people. The fact that they sleazily hid things from the Diet just makes it that much easier to put two and two together.

    Sure, they might have looked worse if they sent ineffective inspectors. But that doesn’t let them off the hook (or mean that any such inspections would have to be cursory). They should be making sure that the beef they get is safe.

    Honestly, I have next to no sympathy for the beef producers. Thing is, even if the Japanese succeed in getting safer beef from America, we in the States will still be eating the same possibly-contaminated meat (and we have WAY too much faith in our FDA). If these negotiations result in a more robust beef safety inspection system, that will be great for Japan and might even work out in the American public’s favor as well. And in this fight, the beef producers have an incentive to comply because they were making huge profits in Japan, where the prices of beef are much higher (due to the absence of ).

    I’m not sure if I would call for blanket testing per se, but better safety standards would be great, not just because of BSE.

  2. Um, I meant to say “Due to the absence of American-style beef subsidy programs” in the 2nd-to-last paragraph.

    With this link:

  3. I agree with everything you wrote.

    To me it seems that the GOJ has repeatedly tried to wash its hands of the issue and take a 何も知らない attitude about the problem. You already know how I feel about the Food Safety Commission. That appeared – and I’m basing this on what I heard from someone in the Japanese government – to be a way of delaying the reopening of imports by taking the decision making power out of the politicians, who can be effectively pressured by the USG.

    You’re right that the GOJ should not be let off the hook on this issue. But the latest incident, to the best of my understanding, is CLEARLY the fault of the US side. It was not a question of poor inspection on anyone’s part; the product (veal from NY, I believe) label clearly indicated that it contained spinal material. Apparently, the exporter was not aware of the regulations.

  4. Okay, let’s repeat. There has NEVER been a case of human mad cow disease from US beef. There has NEVER been a US cow test positive for mad cow disease, only a cow from Canada that was in the US. The hysteria over this issue is ridiculous to the extreme especially considering the problems that Japan’s beef has when compared to US beef. If Japan doesn’t capitulate soon and resume imports, we are looking massive sanctions.

    “What, that Honda Accord had a brake problem and someone might have possibly been hurt or killed in an accident?!? Let’s ban all cars from Japan!”

    Japan has acted like little children thinking there is a monster under the bed or in the closet when it comes to this issue.

  5. Actually, it’s funny you mention that bit about Japanese cars. Two years ago, Mitsubishi Heavy had a major scandal on its hands. Defective axles had caused a number of accidents and deaths (can’t recall exact number) and Mitsubishi had been trying to secretly fix the problem when truckers brought their vehicles in for inspection.

    That said, I agree with you about the absence of a causal link in this situation. However, perceptions matter more than reality on the BSE issue. Whether or not there was any danger from a U.S. animal, we assured the Japanese that ONLY beef under 20 mos. that had all brain and spinal matter removed would be exported. We really got caught with our pants down.

    Like Adamu said, the Japanese consumer really gets screwed here. They can’t trust their own government and now have a good reason not to trust the U.S. government.

  6. Yes, and seriously, this BSE thing just opened up a whole new can of worms when it comes to beef safety.

    In order to feel safe eating industrially processed meat all these years, the public has had to go to great lengths to hide themselves from information that, say, fecal matter and sawdust make it into hamburger or that occasionally McDonald’s workers like to rub hamburger patties on their crotches (I made that up but you know it happens all the time). Luckily, the beef/restaurant industry has used its powers of misdirection to help us out with cartoon cows and constant reassurances that it’s “what’s for dinner.”

    Hopefully they’ll find some sort of cure and we can all go back to believing that the food we eat is clean.

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