Kobe beef could be available at fewer restaurants as foot-and-mouth disease-related concerns restrict the importation of Japanese beef.
The Department of Agriculture added the restrictions on Japanese beef this spring, when Japan and South Korea reported finding animals infected with foot-and-mouth disease. Both had infections in cattle, and South Korea also had infections in swine.
Cindy N. Ragin, a spokeswoman for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the agency was monitoring reports submitted to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and USDA APHIS staff members in Tokyo and Seoul could provide additional monitoring if necessary.
The U.S. is prohibiting the importation of foot-and-mouth disease-susceptible animals from Japan and South Korea, as well as products from susceptible animals. The products include fresh beef, fresh pork, unpasteurized milk, and unprocessed porcine and bovine blood.
But commercial meat products can be exported to the U.S. from Japan and South Korea if those products have met certain cooking requirements and come from plants approved by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, Ragin said.
Milk products from those countries can enter the U.S. if the products are accompanied by import permits and if the exporters' governments provide certifications that the products have been treated to prevent the spread of FMD, Ragin said. Animal products intended to be used as animal feed need to meet similar requirements for entry.
APHIS information indicates most Japanese ruminant and pork products were already restricted from entering the U.S. because of concerns related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, swine vesicular disease, and classical swine fever.
The last outbreak of FMD in the U.S. occurred in 1929.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has urged countries to increase international surveillance for FMD after the outbreaks in Japan and South Korea. Information from the organization expressed concerns that a 2001 outbreak that affected the U.K. and countries in Africa and Europe was preceded by infections in Japan and South Korea.
Dr. Juan Lubroth, chief veterinary officer for the FAO, said that although the exact origins of the FMD outbreaks in Japan and South Korea are not known, the culprit viruses are not new to the Far East region.
Japanese veterinary authorities identified in April a type O FMD virus as the source of an outbreak that infected at least three cattle, and they slaughtered 385 buffalo, cattle, and pigs in an attempt to contain the outbreak. South Korean authorities confirmed their cattle were affected by a type A virus in January and that swine and cattle were affected by a type O virus in April, and they slaughtered about 3,500 animals.
The OIE records indicate that, from January to mid-July of 2010, the organization had received 14 reports of FMD infections in nine countries: China, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Namibia, South Korea, Russia, Taiwan, and Zimbabwe. At least 1,750 swine and 800 cattle were infected in the outbreaks, and thousands more were slaughtered, as were hundreds of sheep and goats.
Import controls, rapid reporting of suspected FMD cases, well-prepared diagnostic laboratories, and practiced contingency plans help animal health authorities reduce the risk that the disease will spread to animals in their countries, Dr. Lubroth said.