- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 11, 2009

TOKYO | Japan suspended beef shipments from an American meatpacker Saturday over its failure to remove cattle parts banned under a bilateral agreement, as officials here raised concerns about U.S. safeguards against mad cow disease.

Japanese quarantine inspectors found bovine spinal columns in one of 732 boxes shipped from Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. that arrived in Japan in late September, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said. The box contained 35 pounds of chilled short loin with spinal bones, which were not released commercially, said ministry official Goshi Nakata.

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

It was the second suspension for the Lexington factory, Mr. 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.

“It’s extremely regrettable,” said Agriculture Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu, who has just returned from meetings in Washington with U.S. trade and farm officials. “We need to closely examine if it was just a careless mistake or there is a systematic problem.”

Japan’s new ruling Democratic Party has proposed a tough response to any violation to a bilateral safety agreement, including a blanket ban on U.S. beef shipments.

The Japanese ministry has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate how the box containing the banned parts ended up in Japan.

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

Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson, called the delivery of that box a mix-up. He said the Springdale, Ark.-based company was investigating and would work with the Agriculture Department to “take corrective measures” so the plant could start supplying Japanese customers again.

He said Tyson has seven other beef plants approved to ship meat to Japan. It was not immediately clear how much meat Tyson ships to Japan, but Mr. Mickelson said it was not among its top five international markets in 2008.

The problem surfaced just one day after U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk urged Mr. Akamatsu on Thursday to lower Japan’s strict safety standards in line with international standards.

“It was bad timing,” said another Japanese agricultural official, Yusuke Hirata, referring to the Tyson shipment. “I hope the U.S. side would see it as an embarrassment and try to make an improvement.”

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