Japan finds BSE risk parts in US beef imports

JAPAN - Japan is considering stopping all imports of U.S. beef - just a month after lifting a ban on the meat - after finding risk materials that could cause mad cow disease in a shipment from New York on Friday.
calendar icon 20 January 2006
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A total of 390 kg (860 lb) of beef imported from a meatpacker in New York was found to contain the risk materials when it was inspected upon arrival at Narita International Airport near Tokyo, a Farm Ministry official said. "Under the agreement between the United States and Japan, we decided to stop imports from the facility," the official said.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said the country's agriculture minister had recommended reimposing the ban on all U.S. beef imports. "He also recommended, because preserving the food safety and security of the people is extremely important, calling on the United States to make a strong response," Koizumi told reporters.

Koizumi said he directed Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa to consult with the health minister on the appropriate response. Japan officially resumed some imports of beef from the United States and Canada last month after a two-year ban. The incident comes as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick is due to visit Japan on Sunday and Monday. Earlier, Nakagawa said a thorough investigation was needed.

"If this is true, it is extremely regrettable.... That is to say, we consider that it would be a serious violation of the import process," Nakagawa told a news conference carried by national broadcaster NHK. Japan halted imports of beef from the United States in December 2003 after the discovery of a case of mad cow disease in Washington state. Before the ban, Japan was the top importer of U.S. beef, with imports valued at $1.4 billion in 2003.

After months of negotiations, Tokyo agreed in December 2005 to resume imports of American beef, but only from cattle aged 20 months or younger. It also said all risk material that could cause the brain-wasting disease had to be totally removed. These materials include the spinal cord, which was found in the cargo of U.S. meat from New York.

Small quantities of beef from the United States have started to enter Japan, but consumers remain worried that food safeguards in the United States are not up to Japanese standards. Experts believe humans can catch a variant version of mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), by eating contaminated meat.

Source: Reuters - 20th January 2006

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