I guess I can now talk openly about my criminal past. Not only has the statue of limitations expired, it's covered with mold, moss and mildew.
The year was 1970 and I was out for a good time. There was only one problem: Johnny-Law didn't think I was old enough to patronize the college bar.
But a friend of a friend knew a guy who could fix me up with a fake ID for the price of a 12-pack. I put in my order for maturity documentation.
I was sweating bullets the first and last time my identity make-over was put to the test. You would have thought I was one of the Gambino brothers newly enrolled in the witness protection program instead of some peach-fuzzed kid trying to score a Budweiser longneck.
Long story short, my poorly produced papers were confiscated by a grumpy bartender named "Al," and I spent the next several years either relatively sober or attending private parties where the beverages had independently surfaced.
Sadly, the last person who "carded" me was a young lady behind the front desk at Holiday Inn Express trying to ascertain whether I qualified for the AARP discount.
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These memories of legal age have been somehow triggered by Japan's decision this week to stop importing beef from Cargill's processing plant in Schuyler, Neb., due to inadequate documentation of source and age.
The Schuyler supplier was kicked out of the bar when cargo from the plant arrived in Tokyo on November 22, including a package without "quarantine documents." When U.S. officials could not confirm the age of the cattle harvested for the beef in question, Cargill was shown the door.
Much to the chagrin of producers and exporters, Japan has strictly enforced an age restriction on U.S. beef since 2005, refusing to accept any product processed from steers and heifers over 20 months of age in order to minimized the perceived risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE.
While this isn't the first time Japanese inspectors have slapped packer hands in this regard (though we haven't such a scolding in a long time), there are reassuring signs that it may be the last.
After years of U.S. reasoning and cajoling, Japan appears to be finally on the way to relaxing the regulations to cattle aged 30 months or younger, as its food safety watchdog said in a report to the government in October that the risk from doing so would be negligible to human health.
Barring a major glitch, Japan should announce the acceptance of older beef by late December or early January. For the first time in nearly a decade, U.S. beef will not be "carded" at the door, a new freedom that will eventually help in the critical fight to regain market share throughout the Pacific Rim.
Technically, Japanese law will still require some form of age proof relative to 30 months or younger. But such a procedure will surely be more relaxed and less defensive given the fact that the vast majority of U.S. feedlot cattle fall far below this threshold.
Inspection intensity may mirror the hospitability industry's need to absolutely confirm my creeping status as a senior citizen.
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