After being removed 15 years ago, Japan will now be accepting US lamb and goat meat | TheFencePost.com

After being removed 15 years ago, Japan will now be accepting US lamb and goat meat

Rachel Gabel
for The Fence Post

Travis Hoffman, received the week's best news via text message while he was overseas visiting sheep operations in Australia. The text from a cohort in the states was four emojis: a Japanese flag, a sheep, a thumbs up and a champagne bottle. Hoffman, an assistant professor and sheep Extension specialist at North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota, knew immediately that U.S. lamb had regained access to Japan.

Japan's importation of U.S. lamb and goat is another avenue for producers to market high-end cuts to a country that has, in the past, valued American lamb for its best qualities. U.S. lamb has experienced a 15-year hiatus of acceptance into Japan following access being closed due to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) being detected in the U.S. cattle herd. Collateral damage is how Hoffman describes the lamb market's removal from Japan in 2003, creating an unnecessary trade challenge as lambs are not at risk for BSE.

Nonetheless, the Japanese market was strong in years past and has proven their demand for high-quality lamb cuts, hopefully making the process of becoming endeared to Japanese consumers brief.

"Japan is an affluent country and if we can get on the menu of more white tablecloth restaurants in Japan, that adds value to our product that will be pulled back to our U.S. producers," Hoffman said.

Japan has imported over $100 million in lamb during the past calendar year, 98 percent of which came from Australia and New Zealand. Opening the door to the Japanese market, Hoffman said, is always a good thing for the industry.

Hoffman said Japanese consumers value American lamb for its consistency, the fact that it's grain finished, and high quality that is unequaled by competitors. At the current time, American lamb producers do not raise enough lamb to satisfy domestic consumers so an added market, especially for higher end cuts, he said, may translate positively to producers.

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"We're on the right pace to move forward," he said. "That consistency and high-quality lamb is what the U.S. likes to put their name on and brand."

HIGHLY ACCEPTED

U.S. Meat Export Federation Chair Dennis Stiffler has spent over 30 years in the meat industry. Previously the CEO of Mountain States Rosen, a fabricator, processor and distributor of lamb products, Stiffler said the news of Japan's acceptance of American lamb is near and dear to his heart.

"The good thing about this is prior to 15 years ago, American lamb was highly accepted in Japan and something that was sought after compared to some of the import products," Stiffler said. "American lamb is grain fed, we have superior genetics, our animals are a little larger with a better muscle to bone ration, and the flavor profile is a little more mild."

These factors led American lamb to be valued by high-end restaurants and hotels in Japan as well as upscale retailers. It is Stiffler's hope that this prior positive experience will translate into an easy transition back into the market, creating demand that will trickle back to producers.

Marketing of American lamb in Japan is likely to tout its source as Japanese consumers, Stiffler said, love the western lifestyle, making the branding of the products advantageous.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation has "boots on the ground" in Japan supporting promotion and engaging in connecting the source of the American lamb to the lamb-buying Japanese public.

The shoulder and neck are the No. 1 items in demand, used in Genghis Khan Mongolian barbecue, and the rib rack and loin are also in high demand, both fresh chilled and frozen cuts.

Before the first American lamb will arrive in Japan, the U.S. packing industry must establish an Export Verification program in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food Safety and Inspection Service. Japan is requiring the lamb to be identified for age. Once approved, exports to Japan can begin.

"It's really that simple," he said. "It's not like Japan has to come over here and inspect a bunch of plants to start with and go forward from that." ❖

— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She lives on a farm near Wiggins, Colo., where she and her family raise cattle and show goats.