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January 23, 2006
Japan to inspect all U.S. beef imports

Japan has ordered inspections of all U.S. beef imported over the past month, calling for a full explanation of an American violation of the countries' beef pact.

Japan halted U.S. beef imports last week after inspectors found spinal bone in an American veal shipment, renewing fears of mad cow disease. The halt came only a month after Tokyo partially lifted its two-year-old ban on U.S. beef.

Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick called the prohibited bone material an unacceptable mistake and expressed "sincere regret" in a meeting with Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa on Sunday. A delegation of U.S. agriculture officials headed to Japan on Monday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said no American beef would be allowed into Japan until Washington explains to Tokyo's satisfaction how the violation happened and what the United States will do to prevent a reccurence.

"As a safety measure, we have instructed the importing industries in Japan to do an independent inspection of all the U.S. beef that has already been imported to make sure that there are no dangerous parts included," he said.

The violation embarrassed Japan's government, which had pushed for a resumption of imports despite wariness among finicky consumers.

"The U.S. had a duty to firmly observe the conditions for resuming imports, and it is regrettable that this duty was not observed," Abe said. "The U.S. needs to firmly investigate into the cause of why this duty was not observed."

Abe said he would urge Zoellick in a meeting later in the day to take all possible measures to "eliminate the suspicions of Japanese consumers."

Tokyo banned American beef imports in 2003 after the first detection of mad cow disease in the U.S. herd. Last month Japan resumed imports from cows no older than 20 months. The deal also excluded spines, brains, bone marrow and other parts of cattle thought to be at particularly high risk of containing the disease.

U.S. industry groups say the recent veal shipment, though it contained spine material, was from calves less than 6 months old, and that mad cow disease hasn't been found in animals that young.

Still, Zoellick told Nakagawa the U.S. was investigating the matter and had removed the company involved from its export program.

Japan was previously the most lucrative overseas market for U.S. beef, buying some $1.4 billion worth in 2003. Japan's decision to halt imports again spurred supermarkets and restaurants to pull American beef from menus and shelves.

Mad cow disease is the common name for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, a degenerative cattle nerve illness linked to the rare and fatal human nerve disorder Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

More than 150 people have died of the disease, most of them in the United Kingdom, where there was an outbreak in the 1980s and 1990s.

Source : Monterey Herald