SALEM, Ohio – Six weeks after Japan agreed to reopen its country to U.S. beef, those borders are closed again.
Japan halted these U.S. exports Jan. 20 after it received a beef shipment containing backbone or vertebral column.
Although this is not a specified risk material in young animals, the agreement with Japan requires it be removed.
In a news conference, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns called this an “unacceptable failure” and said he did not know what action Japan will take now.
“We’re going to act very, very aggressively to make sure that whatever questions they have, whatever concerns they have, we are addressing,” he said.
What now? Although the name of the processing plant that exported the beef was not released, Johanns said the plant was delisted, meaning it can no longer export beef to Japan.
A team of U.S. inspectors immediately went to Japan to help officials re-examine all remaining beef shipments, Johanns said.
In addition, he said, inspectors are going to each U.S. plant that exports beef to be sure they are in compliance with trade agreements.
Technical issue. American Meat Institute
President J. Patrick Boyle said it’s his understanding the contaminated shipment was from calves under 6 months old.
“This product is consumed with confidence here in the U.S.,” he said.
Japan closed its border Christmas Eve 2003 after bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was found in the U.S. It agreed to resume trade Dec. 12, 2005, but demanded additional restrictions, including that beef only be from animals 20 months of age or younger.
Johanns, along with several industry groups, including National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and U.S. Meat Export Federation, stressed this violation with Japan is a technical issue, not a food safety risk.
Consumers. Japan had been the largest consumer of U.S. beef exports, and several countries, including Hong Kong and South Korea, followed Japan’s lead when it reopened its border last month.
Most recently, Singapore agreed to resume trade and the USDA said that meant markets accounting for $3.8 billion had been recovered since the initial BSE case in 2003. Initially, $4.8 billion worth of U.S. beef and beef products were banned, according to USDA.
Johanns said the department would work with these markets as well.
“We’ll make sure that they understand how we’ve responded, what occurred here, and we’ll do that with all of our export markets.”
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
U.S. beef set to be in Japan by holidays (12-15-2005)