WASHINGTON (DTN)--The Australian meat trade, a major supplier to the big Japanese market, believes Japan will struggle for many years to fully recover from the BSE shock which has sent its meat consumption plunging, Reuters reported.

Beef's relatively short history as part of the Japanese diet could delay recovery longer than the four years it took the British market to get properly back on its feet after a mad cow disease outbreak in 1996, industry marketing body Meat & Livestock Australia said.

"It's going to be a long journey to win back Japanese confidence in the product," MLA's general manager of industry affairs David Palmer told Reuters Nov. 13.

Sales of Japanese beef have plunged by 40 to 70% since a farm near Tokyo reported a positive test in September for brain-wasting mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), government figures show.

But Palmer pledged that Australia and the United States, the two biggest beef exporters to the A$4.5 billion-a-year Japanese beef import market, would throw themselves into re-building the Japanese market.

"It's a very important market to both of us," he said.

"We also think we've both got something very solid and positive to offer the Japanese consumer so it's in all our best interests."

MLA, which has already run a series of newspaper advertisements in Japan to attempt to convince Japanese consumers that Australian meat is safe, is about to embark on a new print material campaign together with point of sale public relations work to stress Australian beef's freedom from BSE.

But the British had a much longer history of red meat consumption than the Japanese, Palmer pointed out. The fear was that the Japanese could take even longer to fully return to meat consumption than the four years it took the British, he said.

The main threat from BSE is that, unlike equally feared foot-and-mouth disease, it can produce a fatal human brain affliction. In Europe this has killed about 100 people.

Palmer's comments follow a statement last week by the U.S. Meat Export Federation that it could take two to three years before the Japanese market fully recovers.

In calendar 2000, Japan imported 738,415 tonnes of beef worth U.S. $2.4 billion, with Australia supplying around 335,000 tonnes and most of the rest coming from the United States.

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