The good news this week is that Japan seems to be moving to drop its universal testing protocol for BSE, which could reopen beef trade with the U.S. The concerning news is that Japan might also be bowing to political pressure by electing not to set a national standard but instead give local governments the right to set their own standards for the testing of BSE. Unquestionably, this would make the planning for resumption of trade far more complicated and lengthy.

Regardless of whether the age for testing is 20 months or 24 months, or whether some insist on stricter regulations than others, the result in the U.S. will be an increased emphasis on a national animal ID program. Experts long have predicted that in order for producers to achieve the upper echelons of the market, cattle would have to be source-, genetic- and process-verified. In this post-BSE world, it appears another category will be added -- age-verified.

On a related note, Japan this week confirmed its 12th case of BSE since the disease was first discovered on the island in September 2001. The latest case was a five-year-old Holstein cow.

This latest case isn't expected to have much impact on the discussions underway between Japan and the U.S. regarding the reopening of Japan's markets to U.S. beef exports, however. Japan's feed ban wasn't implemented until 2001. As a result, Japan is just now entering into its highest risk time frame for the discovery of new cases. Meanwhile, the U.S. feed ban has been in place much longer and the critical time for discovering BSE has already passed.