Convincing Japanese officials that US beef is safe to import will be top of the agenda for Lester Crawford, deputy commissioner of the country's Food and Drug Administration, and key to recuperating over $3 billion already lost in sales.
Japan - one the biggest importers - closed its borders to US beef in December when officials announced that a dairy cow in Washington state had been diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, also known as mad cow disease).
Crawford and the rest of the US delegation in Japan will have their work cut out as they attempt to rebuild confidence in the safety of US beef.
According to a statement from the FDA yesterday, Crawford will pay particular attention to the FDA's 'animal feed' rule, designed to help prevent the spread of BSE in the US by prohibiting the feeding of most mammalian protein to ruminant animals such as cows, sheep and goats.
"Compliance with this rule, which took effect in 1997 and is enforced by FDA, is high. More than 99 per cent of the facilities that handle protein prohibited by this rule to be in ruminant feed fully comply with the regulation," said the FDA on Tuesday.
But consumer groups have criticised the US government for not pushing the rules far enough on animal feed.
Rumours in the US media last week suggested that the FDA may soon tighten its ban on the use of cattle remains in livestock feed. If this is the case, soybean sales would immediately soar as soymeal, crushed from the beans, would be used as a high-protein ingredient in feed for US pigs, chickens, cattle and other livestock.
The US beef market is now closed to nearly all of its export markets, valued at $3.2 billion in annual sales of the $21 billion cattle industry. The impact has already been felt with leading meat processors Tyson and Cargill announcing job cuts last week.