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Free Market in Beef Hard to Digest, Japanese Says

December 18, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Japanese trade expert is warning not to expect a quick increase in his country’s imports of U.S. beef, citing dietary concerns, Buddhist customs and the length of Japanese digestive tracts.

″To the intestinal system, it will mean a very big change″ to eat more beef, former Agriculture Minister Tsutomu Hata said at a luncheon Thursday.

Hata, now head of a farm trade group, said Japanese intestinal tracts are longer than those of Americans.

His remarks raised eyebrows among lawmakers and administration officials in the clubby atmosphere of the Mansfield Room adjacent to the Senate chamber. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., hosted the steak luncheon as a way of urging the Tokyo government to allow beef quotas to die on schedule April 1 and not seek to renew them.

″I’ve never heard that argument before,″ U.S. Trade Representative Clayton K. Yeutter chortled to reporters. ″I’ve heard all the rest of them.″

Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, told Hata that Americans had adjusted to the smaller size of Japanese cars because they were more fuel-efficient and better built. He said Japanese consumers should have the freedom to decide for themselves whether to buy more beef.

Hata began to reply by saying that it was unreasonable to compare the fuel efficiency of a car ″to the efficiency of a digestive system.″

″The issue is freedom,″ cut in Gramm.

Hata said religious aversion to eat the meat of four-legged animals and fear about the health effects of a beef diet also are working to head off increased imports from the United States.

Actually, Japan has been increasing beef imports in recent years. But its government has expressed reluctance to let all barriers lapse on schedule April 1 and is hoping that the United States with negotiate the issue.

Hata’s comments about the unsuitability of beef for the Japanese because their intestinal tracts are longer brought skepticism from other American officials.

″I think what we heard today was excuses and delays from the Japanese,″ said Rep. Robert F. Smith, R-Ore., chairman of the congressional Beef Caucus. ″We’ve heard that before.″

Because Hata spoke through a translator, reporters approached him after the session and asked if he meant that Japanese intestinal tracts were literally longer than those of Americans.

″It is factual,″ he said. He said peoples whose diets rely heavily on grains generally have longer digestive systems and that this was also true of the rice-eating Japanese.

He said the extra length means that beef remains in the intestines longer and thus is prone to spoil there.

Lawmakers warned that unless the Japanese lower their beef quotas the United States could retaliate next year with toughened trade legislation.

″This is not a threat,″ Sen. Chic Hecht, R-Nev., said at a news conference later. ″It’s a hammer over their heads.″

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