- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 22, 2006

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s farm minister urged a senior U.S. official yesterday to prevent further violations of a bilateral beef pact, after prohibited bone materials in a recent shipment of American beef renewed fears of mad cow disease.

“The U.S. must strictly follow the rules it agreed upon with Japan, and ensure that such an incident never occurs again,” Shoichi Nakagawa told reporters after meeting with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick in Tokyo.

Mr. Zoellick called the shipment of prohibited bone materials an unacceptable mistake and expressed “sincere regret” on behalf of the United States, said Michael Boyle, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

“The U.S. has a commitment to Japan regarding beef exports, and that is a commitment we take seriously,” Mr. Boyle quoted Mr. Zoellick as saying. Mr. Boyle added that Mr. Zoellick said the particular shipment didn’t affect safety.

Japan announced late Friday that it would stop U.S. beef imports after inspectors found spinal bone material, considered by Japan to be at risk of containing mad cow disease, in a recent veal shipment.

The move came just weeks after Tokyo lifted its two-year ban on American beef from cows 20 months or younger, which are thought unlikely to have the disease.

The deal also excluded spines, brains, bone marrow and other parts of cattle thought to be at particularly high risk of containing the disease.

U.S. industry groups have pointed out that the recent veal shipment, though containing spine material, was from calves less than 6 months old, and that mad cow disease hasn’t been found in animals that young.

Mr. Zoellick told Mr. Nakagawa that the United States had begun investigating the matter and removed the company involved from the export program, and that a group of senior agricultural specialists would arrive today to meet with Japanese officials, Mr. Boyle said.

Japan’s decision to halt imports spurred supermarkets and restaurants to ditch American beef amid renewed mad cow fears, as officials demanded an explanation into how the prohibited material could have passed U.S. inspections.

Mr. Zoellick is scheduled to meet senior Japanese officials today, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, who also said he would lodge a complaint.

Meanwhile, Japan yesterday encountered the possibility of a renewed mad cow risk at home, after samples from a dead cow on the northern island of Hokkaido were sent for further tests for the disease after earlier tests were inconclusive.

Final results were expected today, according to an Agricultural Ministry official.

Mad cow disease is the common name for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, a degenerative cattle nerve illness linked to the rare and fatal human nerve disorder Creutz-feldt-Jakob disease.

More than 150 people have died of the disease, most of them in Britain, the site of an outbreak in the 1980s and 1990s.

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