Australian beef demand holds in Japan as local demand falls

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Japan's consumption of Australian beef is holding up, while demand for local beef is falling sharply, as concerns over irradiated cattle broaden, Melanie Brock, Japan regional manager for the marketing concern Meat & Livestock Australia Ltd., said Tuesday.

Despite reassurances from Japanese experts that beef sourced from areas near the disabled Fukushima nuclear reactor is safe in limited quantities, recent discoveries that contaminated meat from more than 500 cattle were shipped to market from Fukushima and neighbouring prefectures have raised issues of trust in local beef, said Brock, who is based in Tokyo.

About 40% of beef consumed in Japan is from Australia, with domestic production meeting another 40% of demand, Brock said. The U.S. supplies 12% of the Japanese market and New Zealand another 7%.

Exports of about 350,000 metric tons a year of boneless beef valued at A$1.7 billion account for nearly 40% of the Australia's beef exports, making Japan Australia's biggest beef export market.

Customers in Japan are inundating retailers with queries, and retailers are passing these on to their wholesalers--consumers want a commitment to safe beef, she said.

"Some retailers say that domestic beef is 40% or 50% down in sales, but that hasn't been the case for imported beef. We're not showing any drop at this point,"

Even so, given the lack of consumer confidence in beef, demand for Australian imports could fall, though this would likely be short-lived given its safe reputation.

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