Note: AgriTalk program discusses U.S./Japan beef trade

Japan’s prime minister confirmed this morning that imports of U.S. beef have been halted after officials found what may have been an animal spine in a shipment at Tokyo International Airport.

Japan’s agriculture minister, Shoichi Nakagawa, recommended a total halt to American beef imports if officials confirm the shipment contained materials at risk for BSE.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns issued a statement this morning that the matter is taken “very seriously and we are conducting a thorough investigation.

“Under U.S. regulations, the backbone, or vertebral column, that was exported to Japan is not a specified risk material because it was in beef under 30 months (of age),” Johanns said. “However, our agreement with Japan is to export beef with no vertebral column and we have failed to meet the terms of that agreement.”

Johanns is dispatching a team of USDA inspectors to Japan to work with Japanese inspectors to reexamine every shipment currently awaiting approval, to confirm compliance with the requirements of the export agreement with Japan. Johanns also said the processing plant that exported the product in question has been de-listed and “therefore can no longer export beef to Japan.”

Japan lifted its ban on U.S. beef last month, saying new safety measures would decrease the public’s risk of contamination due to BSE. Under the new regulations, only beef from cattle younger than 20 months could be exported to Japan, and all brain, spinal cord and other “high risk” materials must be removed.

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