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October 12, 2009

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Japan rejects US firm's beef

JAPAN suspended beef shipments from an American meat packer on Saturday over its failure to remove cattle parts banned under a bilateral agreement, as Japanese officials raised concerns about American safeguards against mad cow disease.
Japanese quarantine inspectors found bovine spinal columns in one of 732 boxes shipped from Tyson Fresh Meats Inc, which arrived in Japan in late September, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said. The box contained 16 kilograms of chilled short loin with spinal bones, which were not released commercially, said ministry official Goshi Nakata.
The suspension only affects Tyson's factory in Lexington, Nebraska, one of 46 meat-packing plants approved to export beef to Japan.
It was the second suspension for the Lexington factory, Nakata said. Japan slapped a four-month ban on beef shipments from the same plant in February 2007 after finding two boxes of beef lacking verifications to show they came from cattle that met Japan's safety standards.
"It's extremely regrettable," said Agriculture Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu, who has just returned from meetings in Washington with United States trade and farm officials. "We need to closely examine if it was just a careless mistake or there is a systematic problem."
Japan's new ruling Democratic Party has proposed a tough response to any violation to a bilateral safety agreement, including a blanket ban on US beef shipments.
The Japanese ministry has asked the US Department of Agriculture to investigate how the box containing the banned parts ended up in Japan.
Japan will await results of a US investigation to determine the penalty for the Tyson factory, the agriculture ministry said.
Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson, called the delivery of that box a mix-up.
The problem surfaced just one day after US Trade Representative Ron Kirk urged Akamatsu to lower Japan's strict safety standards in line with international standards.
Washington has repeatedly criticized Japan for its tough import restrictions, which authorities say have no scientific basis.
Under the trade agreement, US exporters must remove spinal columns, brain tissue and other parts considered linked to mad cow disease.


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