USMEF Continues Relief, Recovery Efforts as Impact Lingers

It is 17 months since an earthquake and tsunami devastated northeastern Japan, but the impact lingers. More than 10,000 people are still living in temporary housing and shelters, and the economy of the region is slow to rebound.

USMEF is continuing to support families in need

USMEF is continuing to support families in need

USMEF is continuing to support both families in need and the economic recovery of the Tohoku region through efforts such as a beef tongue promotion going on through Aug. 31 in cooperation with the Sendai Beef Tongue Association and the Japan Yakiniku Association.

“One goal in this program is to support the recovery of local beef tongue yakiniku restaurants that have been strong partners with the U.S. beef industry,” said Takemichi Yamashoji, senior marketing director for USMEF-Japan. “At the same time, a portion of the sales will be donated to the Miyagi Children’s Scholarship Fund for children who lost their parents in the disaster last year.”

Funding for the promotion comes from the USDA Market Access Program (MAP), the Nebraska Beef Council and Nebraska Corn Board.

Both the beef tongue restaurants and the larger yakiniku sector in the region have suffered continuing effects from the disaster. The yakiniku industry, which uses large amounts of U.S. variety meat, has seen its business decline as elevated radioactivity levels have been detected in local meat and several people have reported food poisoning from domestic beef livers.

“Beef tongue yakiniku is an important part of the local food culture,” said Yamashoji. “Before BSE (2003), these restaurants used about 5,000 metric tons of U.S. beef tongue annually, but they had to move to Australian and New Zealand products as the supply of U.S. product ran short.”

A poster advertising U.S. beef tongue

A poster advertising U.S. beef tongue

More than 30 companies with 107 local restaurant outlets have joined the promotion, reintroducing U.S. beef tongue in the process. Many of the restaurants are changing in anticipation of the Japanese government’s expected expansion of access for U.S. beef from cattle under 20 months of age up to cattle under 30 months of age.

Wider access for U.S. beef is expected to have the greatest impact on Japan’s yakiniku industry, according to Yamashoji.

“We want to reacquaint Japanese consumers with the high quality and taste of U.S. beef variety meat,” he said. “Greater access will mean expanded imports of American beef.”

To generate excitement and awareness of the promotion, USMEF is using Twitter, Facebook, train advertising and its own website, while conducting a sweepstakes in which consumers can win U.S. beef tongue and U.S. beef yakiniku prizes.

Not only is the promotion getting widespread attention in Tohoku, but yakiniku restaurants across Japan are displaying posters for the campaign in solidarity with Tohoku and to bolster yakiniku consumption for the season.

Relief Campaign Continues

In addition to the tongue promotion, USMEF continues to support the “relief” portion of its Japan Relief and Recovery Campaign. At this week’s Moving Star Festival in Rikuzentakata, a city destroyed in last March’s earthquake, USMEF and local volunteer organizations will distribute 5,000 meals containing U.S. pork sausage and U.S. beef strip loin to residents.

Over the coming weeks, USMEF will support smaller meal distributions in Miyagi, Fukushima and Shizuoka for children and mothers living in temporary housing, as well as at a children’s summer camp operated by relief organizations in Fukushima. Support for these outreach efforts is provided through the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council and the Nebraska Beef Council.

“The generosity of the American producer organizations that contributed to the USMEF Japan Relief and Recovery Effort is continuing to pay dividends in Japan,” said Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO. “The program continues to help our friends in Japan on multiple levels: both with the immediate need of providing hot meals to displaced families as well as the longer-term effort of encouraging the consumer activity necessary for economic recovery. On both fronts, we believe it has been a complete success.”

The USMEF Japan Relief and Recovery Effort has collaborated with hundreds of companies and nonprofit groups in Japan since March 2011, providing nearly 200,000 hot meals containing U.S. beef and pork to displaced families.

Through the first five months of 2012, Japan is the No. 1 value market for U.S. pork exports and No. 3 value market for U.S. beef. It has purchased 199,061 metric tons (438.8 million pounds) of pork valued at $869.1 million and 56,297 metric tons (124.1 million pounds) of beef valued at $370.7 million.