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Japan panel to review US veal report, actions

By Staff
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TOKYO, Feb 23 (Reuters) Japan's Food Safety Commission today asked the government to hear its views on a US report on how banned cattle parts got into a veal shipment before the two countries hold talks over beef trade.

The commission, an independent risk-assessment organisation, was holding its first meeting since the United States issued a report on what went wrong with the shipment, which led Japan to suspend US beef imports on January. 20, just a month after it eased a two-year ban on US beef imposed over mad cow disease fears.

Commission chairman Masaaki Terada said its expert panel on mad cow disease would review the report.

''We expect the government to hold talks with the United States, based on what will be discussed at the panel,'' Terada said during a commission meeting today, which was also attended by officials of Japan's farm and health ministries.

The Japanese government has said it cannot allow imports to resume until Washington finds the cause of the violation and takes steps to prevent a recurrence.

Vice Agriculture Minister Mamoru Ishihara told reporters today it is not yet possible to evaluate the US report because it is being studied by the health and foreign ministries.

A Japanese translation of the US report is being prepared for public reference, a health ministry official said.

Ishihara said in a previous news conference that the government may ask the United States to take additional steps if it concludes that measures explained in the US report are insufficient to prevent a similar incident.

Japan reinstated its ban on US beef after its inspectors discovered banned spinal material in a shipment from New York.

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

The action came several days after the Food Safety Commission finalised a report that beef and beef offal from US animals aged up to 20 months present very low risk if specified materials are removed properly.

Before the two-year ban, Japan was the top importer of US beef.

In 2003, it imported 240,000 tonnes of US beef valued at 1.4 billion dollars, about one-quarter of total Japanese beef demand.

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

The report issued last Friday by the US Agriculture Department said a U.S. company 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 that time that both understood the requirements of the programme.

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

Separately John Stewart, CEO of Kansas-based Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, LLC, today spoke to Japanese opposition lawmakers.

Creekstone made headlines in 2004 when it unsuccessfully tried to get approval from the US Agriculture Department to test all of its cattle for mad cow disease, a move which would have complied with Japanese safety guidelines at the time. ''I think it's fair to say that US beef is safe,'' Stewart said in a meeting with members of Japan's main opposition Democratic Party.

He said, however, that there were varying degrees of capability within the US beef industry.

Stewart said: ''Given the fact that each plant in the United States is somewhat different, and given the fact that the interest of each individual plant in the Japanese business may be different, we have proposed that rather than have blanket approvals, Japan should look at a plant-by-plant approval process.'' REUTERS SHR PM1450

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