Japanese restaurateurs are urging their government to ease import restrictions on U.S. beef. The Japan Food Service Association (JFSA) and three other restaurant groups say supply of U.S. beef has lagged critically behind demand and driven prices higher, the Japan Times reports.

As of the end of October, only 3,241 tons of U.S. beef have been imported into Japan since the reopening. And fewer than 30% of restaurants serving U.S. beef before the late 2003 ban do so now, according to a recent JFSA poll of 130 steak, beef rice bowl and grilled beef restaurant chains nationwide. Japan currently allows only boneless cuts from cattle younger than 20 months age.

Meanwhile, the Kyodo News reports Japanese fast-food chain Yoshinoya D&C Co. has resumed daily sales of "gyudon" rice bowls topped with seasoned U.S. beef at its 1,000 outlets. But sales of the dish at the 24-hour restaurants are limited to just 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. due to a shortage of U.S. product.

And Japan Today reports Burger King Corp. plans to return to the Japanese market in 2007 after a five-year absence, opening 100 outlets from 2007 to 2012. Burger King pulled out of Japan in 2001 in the wake of weak sales and a price war with McDonalds, the report says.
-- Joe Roybal