Japanese Meat Quality Assurance Programs Analyzed

Roxanne Clemens, MATRIC, 515-294-8842; rclemens@iastate.edu
Susan Thompson, Ag Communications, Iowa State University College of Agriculture, (515) 294-0705; sander@iastate.edu
From "Agriculture in Action: Notes from ISU" by Susan Thompson

October 9, 2003

Japanese consumers are sophisticated, highly conscious of food quality and safety, and willing to pay more for attributes they believe result in a high-quality, safe product. The same can be said of American consumers. An analysis of efforts in Japan designed to assure consumers the meat they buy is safe offers insight to exporters, but also to producers and retailers in this country.

Roxanne Clemens is managing director of the Midwest Agribusiness Trade Research and Information Center at Iowa State University. She took part last spring in the Iowa Department of Economic Development's Japan Meat Mission 2003. Other participants included Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge and representatives from the Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Beef Industry Council, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and several Iowa agribusinesses.

While in Japan, Clemens gathered information on domestic meat production, plus government and private programs that provide consumers with information about the meat they buy.

"Recent domestic and international food safety crises elevated the importance of meat safety among Japanese consumers," Clemens says. "The Japanese government and food industry are implementing new policies and systems to assure them the food supply is safe and wholesome."

The Japanese government is developing a new Food Safety Commission and laws have been passed that will require new types of labeling in the future. "In the meantime, supermarkets have taken on the role of assuring consumers about food safety and quality," Clemens says.

The Jusco supermarket chain has implemented one of the most comprehensive systems. A computer is available in the meat sales area. Customers enter a 10-digit code into the computer from the product label on individual meat trays. That allows them to view and print a host of information on how the animal was raised, the plant where it was delivered for harvesting, health tests - even the name of the meat inspector at the plant.

And the consumer can see a photograph of the producer who delivered the animal to the harvesting plant. "Japanese consumers equate such a photograph with knowing the producer and feel more comfortable with the safety of the product," Clemens says. Other supermarkets are offering similar systems to provide a story of the meats they sell. Country-of-origin labeling is mandatory at retail outlets, but the Japanese government currently does not require traceability for imported meats. "However, most industry experts believe that U.S. exporters with traceability systems already in place might do very well in Japan because so few suppliers have implemented such systems," Clemens says.

For more information, see "Meat Traceability and Quality Assurance in Japan," MATRIC briefing paper 03-MBP 5, available for download on the CARD and MATRIC Web sites.