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From: TSS ()
Subject: Japan farm chief says U.S. plants were not examined before lifting ban on USA mad cow beef
Date: January 31, 2006 at 7:53 am PST

Jan. 31, 2006, 4:10AM
Inspection lapse attacked
Japan farm chief says U.S. plants were not examined before lifting ban

Associated Press

TOKYO - The Japanese government did not inspect U.S. cattle facilities before easing a ban on American beef prompted by concerns about mad cow disease, Japan's farm minister acknowledged Monday before apologizing.

Tokyo banned American beef imports in 2003 after the first case of mad cow disease was discovered in the United States. That ban was eased Dec. 12, but imports were halted again this month after a beef shipment arrived in Japan with banned spinal bones in it.

Japan considers such bones to be at risk for mad cow disease.

Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa acknowledged Monday that government inspections were conducted only after the ban was eased, despite a Cabinet statement that said such checks should come before a resumption of imports.

"I apologize for not fulfilling the requirement to conduct inspections prior to the resumption," Nakagawa told a parliament committee.

"I will think about how to take responsibility for that," he said, adding that any decision on whether he should resign will be left up to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

But Nakagawa also defended his actions by saying it would have been impractical to evaluate compliance by the U.S. beef processors when shipments to Japan had not even resumed.

Opposition lawmakers unsatisfied with his response walked out of the committee hearing.

"Nakagawa should be dismissed or resign," said Seiji Maehara, who leads the main opposition, the Democratic Party of Japan.

"The Koizumi cabinet, which has continued to lay the blame solely on the U.S., must also bear a grave responsibility in this matter."

Nakagawa's admission of inspection lapses came after comments over the weekend by the head of Japan's beef safety panel, who said Tokyo should import U.S. beef only from slaughterhouses inspected by the Japanese government.

According to Kyodo News agency, Yasuhiro Yoshikawa also recommended separate processing lines for beef destined for the Japanese market because of different rules in the U.S. and Japan regarding what cattle parts are acceptable.

Japanese officials have criticized the American inspection system and refused to reopen the country's lucrative market until the latest mishap is fully investigated.

Mad cow disease — whose medical name is bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE — is a brain-wasting disease in cattle.

Eating meat or cattle products contaminated with BSE is linked to a rare, fatal human disease called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The U.S. has had two confirmed cases of the disease. The first homegrown case turned up in Brahma cross beef cow in Texas in June. But the U.S. only tests a sample of its herd, while Japan carries out mad cow tests on all cattle slaughtered for food, as well as all cattle 24 months or older that die of other causes.

The 2003 ban on U.S. beef was sparked by the first discovery of mad cow disease in the American herd. Prior to that, Japan had been U.S. beef's most lucrative overseas market, buying some $1.4 billion worth in 2003.

Texas is the leading U.S. beef producer. Under the agreement reopening the market last month, Japan accepted meat only from cows aged 20 months or less.

opposition leader


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