Japan suspends US plant’s beef amid mad cow fears

Japan suspends US plant’s beef amid mad cow fears

Tokyo: Japan has suspended beef shipments from an American meatpacking plant after finding cattle parts banned under an agreement to prevent the spread of mad cow disease, the agriculture ministry said on Saturday.

Japanese quarantine inspectors found bovine spinal columns in one of 732 boxes sent by Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., which arrived in Japan last month, the ministry of agriculture, forestry and fisheries said in a statement. The box contained 35 pounds (16 kg) of chilled short loin with spinal bones, which were not released commercially, said ministry official Goshi Nakata.

The suspension only affects Tyson’s factory in Lexington, Nebraska, one of 46 meatpacking plants approved to export beef to Japan.

It was the second suspension for the Lexington factory, Nakata said. Japan slapped a four-month ban on beef shipments from the same plant in February 2007 after finding two boxes of beef lacking verifications to show they came from cattle that met Japan’s safety standards.

The Japanese ministry also asked the US department of agriculture to investigate how the box containing the banned parts ended up in Japan.

Japan will await results of a US investigation to determine the penalty for the Tyson factory, the ministry said.

Japan banned all US beef imports in 2003 after the first case of mad cow disease was discovered in the US. Japan resumed buying American beef in 2006 after a bilateral trade agreement setting new safety standards.

Mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is a degenerative nerve disease in cattle. In humans, eating meat products contaminated with the illness is linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare and fatal malady.

Under the bilateral trade agreement, US exporters must remove spinal columns, brain tissue and other parts considered linked to mad cow disease. US beef shipments to Japan must also come only from cattle age 20 months or younger, which are believed to pose less of a risk.

Washington has repeatedly criticized Japan for its tough import restrictions, which authorities say have no scientific basis.

US officials have urged Japan to allow imports of beef from cattle aged up to 30 months, a widely used safety standard elsewhere.