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Originally published Friday, February 1, 2013 at 4:01 PM

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Editorial: Washington beef, pear exports get a boost

Agricultural exports to Japan and China have room to grow with policy changes on beef and pears.

Seattle Times Editorial

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WASHINGTON has reason for optimism almost a decade after the state’s traumatic encounter with mad-cow disease closed lucrative markets to U.S. beef around the globe.

Japan will now allow imports of meat from U.S. cattle 30 months or younger. The current limit of 20 months or younger had been in place since 2006.

Washington, the No. 1 grower of pears in the U.S., has a new customer: China. The Yakima Herald Republic reports the first shipment of 3,600 boxes is en route.

In December 2003, a likely case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy involving a dairy cow from Yakima County turned the beef-export market upside down.

Japan abruptly halted the import of U.S. beef worth $1.4 billion a year. Of course, earlier in 2003, a single sick cow in Alberta halted the import of Canadian beef by the United States and 28 other nations.

Japan did not relent until 2006, when an assumption that younger cattle were less at risk for mad-cow disease reopened imports for processed beef from U.S. cattle 20 months or younger. The market among Japanese consumers still has room to recover.

In the meantime, the ripple effects had not only hit Washington cattle interests, but also caused economic and logistical turmoil for the shipping industry.

One infected cow in Mabton, Yakima County, resulted in U.S. beef being banned in Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand, as well as Japan.

Those times are receding, but state and federal officials are currently tracing a suspected case of bovine tuberculosis in Washington.

Washington cattle-industry leaders are optimistic about the future. Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, looks to the state‘s competitive advantages over other regions in all aspects of the business, from raising and feeding cattle to processing and shipping. The state has been spared droughts and higher feed costs.

Patti Brumbach, executive director of the Washington State Beef Commission, is working on regional promotions to boost overseas sales.

The positive news about Washington pears headed to China is grounded in a trade deal negotiated between the two countries last summer, with final details completed this week.

Sales this marketing year could top 50,000 boxes, the Herald reported, with visions of 300,000 boxes annually in the years ahead. Market potential seems limitless.

Washington beef and pears. Cheer the good news for the state’s economy and its global reputation as a competitive exporter of first-rate products.

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