A delegation from the United States, including representatives from the pork industry and the U.S. Meat Export Federation, met recently with the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to discuss new standards for veterinary drugs and other chemicals in food products entering the Japanese market.

The May 16-17 meeting was described as “positive and cooperative.” Japanese officials imposed new maximum residue limit standards on May 29.

Paul Sundberg, DVM, National Pork Board vice president of science and technology, notes that Japan imports food products from over 200 countries — and each may have its own production and residue standards.

“The Japanese food safety agency is treating all sources of food products equally. They want to be able to ensure safe products for the Japanese market,” he says.

To do so, Japan has gone to a system that more closely aligns them with Codex standards, a series of international standards for food safety and consumer protection established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization. Japan has now developed a list of 700 products to monitor for chemical residues.

Included on the product list for chemicals used in agriculture are antibiotics, insecticides and anti-parasiticides, explains Sundberg.

Japan will continue its random monitoring and surveillance program for chemicals in meat, including antibiotics.

U.S. pork producers must meet animal health product withdrawal standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Following product label guidelines will satisfy most of the new Japanese guidelines as well. “U.S. products should have no problems satisfying the new guidelines,” Sundberg assures. “The United States is one of the leaders in food safety control processes and enforcement.

“That said, it is in the pork industry's best interest to comply with the new Japanese standards, and some animal health products we use in the United States today will require extended withdrawal periods,” he adds.

That's why it is so critical for pork producers to first check with their packers to determine whether they export pork to Japan, stresses Sundberg. If they do, producers need to sit down with their veterinarian and go over the list of chemicals used in production. Furthermore, he suggests producers log onto the “For Producers” section of www.pork.org to review withdrawal information on antibiotics and form standard operating procedures.

“Japan is a very important market for U.S. pork. The Japanese market represents about 40% of all U.S. pork exports, at a value of $1.07 billion,” he concludes.