February 20, 2006

Japan govt: may seek more info on US beef report

By Aya Takada

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan may seek more information from the
United States regarding its report on how banned cattle parts
got into a shipment of U.S. veal, Japan's top government
spokesman said on Monday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe also said Japan had not
yet completed its assessment of a U.S. report submitted to
Japan last Friday.

"We want to study the report closely before evaluating the
content," Abe told a news conference.

The remarks came after Kyodo news agency reported that Farm
Minister Shoichi Nakagawa told Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi
that the U.S. report was "insufficient."

"I reported that, for the Japanese side, the contents were
insufficient," Kyodo quoted Nakagawa as telling reporters after
meeting Koizumi.

The U.S. Agriculture Department on Friday issued a report
on what went wrong with the shipment, which had prompted Japan
to suspend U.S. beef imports on January 20, just a month after
it ended a two-year ban on U.S. beef imposed over mad cow
disease fears.

Before the ban, Japan was the top importer of U.S. beef. In
2003, it imported 240,000 tonnes of U.S. beef valued at $1.4
billion, about one-quarter of total Japanese beef demand.

Japanese Vice Agriculture Minister Mamoru Ishihara said
earlier on Monday that the government was carefully studying
the report and might hold talks with U.S. officials if

"I think they spent sufficient time on the investigation,
but it is too early to say whether the report fully answers all
the questions we have," Ishihara told a news conference.

It will take more time for the Japanese government to
assess the U.S. investigation, Ishihara said, adding that the
government had not set a deadline for this assessment.

"We have to study it very carefully, although we should not
spend an unnecessarily long time on it," he said.

Japan reinstated its ban on U.S. beef after its inspectors
discovered banned spinal material in a veal shipment from New


In December, Japan lifted a ban on imports of beef and beef
offal from U.S. cattle aged up to 20 months, on condition that
specified risk materials that could transmit the fatal disease,
such as spinal cords, were removed before the meat was shipped.

The Japanese government -- which has come under fire from
opposition critics for lifting the ban too quickly under U.S.
pressure -- has said it could not allow imports to restart
until Washington found the cause of the violation and took
measures to prevent a recurrence.

The USDA report said a U.S. company shipped ineligible veal
to Japan because the exporter and the USDA inspector were not
familiar enough with the requirements of the Japan beef export

The veal was shipped by Atlantic Veal and Lamb and supplied
by Golden Veal, both of which were certified on January 6. USDA
personnel confirmed at that time that both understood the
requirements of the programme.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said on Friday that
USDA inspectors would now undergo extensive mandatory training
so they understand the beef export programme.

Johanns also said he had no real insight into when the
Japanese beef market would reopen, in contrast to a USDA report
earlier this month that indicated shipments could resume in the
second quarter.

(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg)