As the U.S. moves closer to re-establishing beef trade with Japan, USDA continues to establish guidelines to ensure that beef products shipped to Japan are from cattle 20 months of age or less. Currently, the Japanese have agreed to accept A70 physiological maturity of the carcass measured in the cooler or age verification using production records. However, records alone are not enough. Age verification must be done through a USDA-approved Quality System Assessment program.

“To qualify for export to Japan, beef must comply with the regulations of the Beef Export Verification program for Japan,” says John Lawrence, Iowa State University extension economist and director of the Iowa Beef Center. “Producers and processors of any cattle that will provide beef for the Japanese market must participate in a Quality System Assessment program that has been pre-approved by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.”

That is, cattle must have been raised by feedlots, backgrounders and cowherds that are under a QSA program.

“Think of the process as an audit pyramid,” Dr. Lawrence says. “USDA will approve and audit individual QSA programs, and each QSA program will accept responsibility for their participating producers.” The individual QSA programs may differ, but the program will have procedures to assure compliance, including a written plan explaining how records are kept.

When the Japanese market does reopen, Dr. Lawrence says cattle producers have three options to sell cattle to Japan: participate in a packer’s QSA, develop their own QSA and get it approved by USDA or participate in a QSA of an independent company.

Relatively few QSA programs exist today, but the number is growing. For more information, links to USDA guidelines and a list of approved programs, visit the Age & Source Verification page at