I’m pleased with the re-opening of beef trade with Japan, but frustrated by reports out of Japan that consumer confidence in U.S. beef is weak. Considering the extensive efforts to lift Japan’s ban on U.S. beef and the importance of the Japanese market to the Nebraska and U.S. beef industry, it’s bothersome that U.S. beef has not even made its way to a majority of retailers and restaurants because many are still cautions about offering the product.

I sent a letter last week to U.S. Dept of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Johanns asking the agency to outline its plan to revive the fledgling Japanese market for U.S. beef. America’s beef producers have already endured enough delays in lifting Japan’s ban. Now that we’ve cleared that hurdle, we shouldn’t experience any more delays on behalf of the USDA’s lack of foresight and planning. According to a recent news report, the last time the ban was lifted the U.S. exported 700 tons of U.S. beef to Japan between Dec. 16, 2005 and Jan. 20, 2006 when trade was first reinstated. Since Japan re-opened its trade once more this month, the U.S. has only exported just over 17 tons of beef between Aug. 7 and 17, 2006.

I know the beef industry and exporters are doing their best to try and regain the confidence of Japanese consumers and I want to ensure that the USDA is also engaged in these efforts. I’d also like to offer my assistance in helping U.S. beef find market acceptance in Japan.

I don’t want to be too ominous, however. Just this week one of Japan’s largest barbeque chains announced it would be receiving its first imports of U.S. beef. I hope to hear more hopeful stories like this in the near future. Now that we’ve jumped the bureaucratic hurdles and resumed trade, we need a plan to reassure Japanese consumers of something I’ve long believed—that U.S. beef is the highest quality and safest beef in the world.