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Japan to question US next week on veal report

Written by: Staff
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TOKYO, Mar 3 (Reuters) Japanese Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa today said that Tokyo will send questions to Washington as early as next week about the US report on the veal shipment that prompted Japan to reinstate a ban on American beef in January.

Asked by reporters what kind of questions Japan would raise, Nakagawa answered: ''We have not yet finished compiling them.'' Nakagawa also said he would discuss the issue with US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns if they hold bilateral talks on the sidelines of world trade talks in London next week.

The Japanese government today published a Japanese translation of the US report for public reference. The US shipment that contained banned cattle parts ignited concerns among Japanese consumers, lawmakers and food safety experts that US beef might be tainted with material that could cause mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

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

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

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.

On February 17, the US Agriculture Department submitted to Japan a report that examined how the violation occurred and USDA steps to prevent a repetition.

Johanns said on Monday the USDA would respond ''expeditiously'' to any questions from Japan about the report.

Before the initial 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.

REUTERS PR SP1257

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