|By TIM THORNBERRY
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Just as the United States seemed to be back in business with Japan concerning beef imports, the Japanese put in a new ban after a shipment was discovered to include an animal spine at the Tokyo International Airport almost two weeks ago.
The previous restrictions had only been lifted less than two months ago following a two-year ban on U.S. beef after two cows here were found with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or Mad Cow disease. Neither of the animals was processed as food but the discovery sent the U.S. beef export industry into a tailspin after other countries followed Japan’s lead and also imposed bans.
The recent finding violated an agreement between Japan and the United States, which included restrictions that only cows younger than 30 months could be imported and all brain, spinal cord and other material must be removed.
USDA Secretary Mike Johanns reacted to the new ban by saying the unfortunate event was due “to human error, a failure on the part of the exporter and on the part of USDA personnel to identify the product as being ineligible.”
“We know the value of this market. It’s significant,” said Johanns. “Its value before 2003 was $1.4 billion. That’s a lot of revenue to jeopardize over a careless mistake. No one is more disappointed than I at this turn of events, and it would be an understatement to say that I’m treating this incident very, very seriously.”
Japan’s Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi received the agriculture minister’s report over the telephone with his recommendation that the imports be halted.
“I think it is a good idea,” said Koizumi. “This is a pity, given that imports had just resumed.” He also told reporters that it was “extremely important to secure the food safety for the Japanese people.”
Johanns said the processing plant that exported the product had been de-listed and could no longer export beef to Japan.
“We will take the appropriate personnel action against the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service employee who conducted the inspection of the product in question and approved it to be shipped to Japan. We take this matter very seriously and we are conducting a thorough investigation.
“I have talked with Ambassador (Ryozo) Kato and I expressed our regret and informed him of our actions. I also offered to provide in writing an outline of our actions and the results of our investigation into this matter.”
It is unknown if any other countries will impose similar bans. Taiwan recently lifted a ban on U.S. beef after two years. In 2003, the United States exported more than $76 million of beef to Taiwan.
This farm news was published in the February 1, 2006 issue of Farm World.