March 6, 2006

Japan says unclear if US beef actions would work

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's vice farm minister said on Monday
it is unclear if actions proposed by Washington would help
prevent shipments of banned U.S. beef to Japan.

Japan suspended U.S. beef imports on January 20, just a
month after it eased a two-year-old ban on U.S. beef imposed
over mad cow disease fears, when Japanese inspectors discovered
banned spinal material in a veal shipment from New York.

The U.S. Agriculture Department submitted to Japan on
February 17 a report that examined how the violation occurred
and USDA steps to prevent a repetition.

"With regard to the cause of the violation and steps to
prevent a recurrence, there are several unclear points," Vice
Agriculture Minister Mamoru Ishihara told a news conference on

The Japanese government was sending questions about the
U.S. report to Washington later on monday, he added.

Japan will also seek a U.S. explanation about whether USDA
properly certifies U.S. meatpacking plants as eligible beef
suppliers to Japan, and whether it is properly inspecting such
plants, Ishihara said.

The USDA report said a U.S. firm made an ineligible
shipment because the exporter and the USDA inspector were not
sufficiently familiar with the requirements of Japan's beef
export programme.

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 the time that both understood the
requirements of the programme.

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

Before the initial 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

The Japanese government, under fire from opposition critics
who say it lifted the ban too quickly under U.S. pressure, is
cautious about an early resumption of beef imports.

On Saturday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns
predicted that U.S. beef exports to Japan would resume "very,
very quickly" and said he hoped to make progress on such a
timetable at meetings in London.

Johanns and Japanese Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa
are considering discussing the beef issue when they meet on the
sidelines of world trade talks in London later this week.

Johanns said Japanese inspectors would be welcome to
conduct spot checks of U.S. beef plants to alleviate safety