After a nearly 15-year absence, U.S. lamb has officially regained access to Japan, USDA officials announced Thursday. Japan closed to U.S. lamb in December 2003 as a result of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) detected in the U.S. cattle herd.
“Japan was a primary market for U.S. lamb before losing access, so obviously our lamb producers and the lamb industry are very excited about this opportunity to again export our quality products to an upscale market,” said U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Chair Dennis Stiffler, president of the Texas division of Halperns’ Purveyors of Steak and Seafood and former chief executive officer of Mountain States Rosen, a livestock producer-owned processor and distributor of lamb and veal products. “The Japanese have proven in the past that they are very receptive to the unique flavor of U.S. lamb, and 95 percent of all lamb raised in the U.S. is grain-fed. It’s a very succulent protein that will stand up well to competitors’ products in the Japanese market. U.S. lamb has been well-received in other upscale markets, including Taiwan which reopened to U.S. lamb in 2016. But Japan presents an exceptional opportunity for significant export growth.”
Already the leading value market for U.S. beef and pork, Japanese consumers are expected to embrace U.S. lamb’s flavor and consistency, along with the essential nutrients that make it part of a healthy diet.
Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO, thanked U.S. agricultural and trade officials for their efforts to restore market access for U.S. lamb and said the announcement lays the groundwork for a much-needed boost for lamb exports.
“As is the case in other markets where U.S. red meat has been successful in regaining access, this is the result of tremendous work by U.S. government officials and the U.S. meat industry,” said Halstrom. “There is great demand for high-quality, grain-fed red meat in Japan, as demonstrated by the success of U.S. beef and pork. The U.S. lamb industry is anxious to capitalize on opportunities in Japan’s restaurant and retail sectors, and USMEF is eager to begin promoting U.S. lamb in Japan.”
Japan’s lamb imports reached a record value of $168 million last year, up 26 percent year-over-year. Through May 2018, imports were 43 percent ahead of last year’s pace in value at $95 million, while volume was up 28 percent to 12,265 metric tons. Australia is the top supplier of lamb entering Japan with 60 percent market share so far this year, while New Zealand supplied 38 percent.