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Japan Urges US on Beef Import Safety
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Japan's agriculture minister urged a senior US 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 US 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 US Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick in Tokyo.


Zoellick called the shipment of prohibited bone materials an unacceptable mistake, and expressed "sincere regret" on behalf of the US, according to Michael Boyle, a spokesperson for the US Embassy in Tokyo.


"The US has a commitment to Japan regarding beef exports, and that is a commitment we take seriously," Boyle quoted Zoellick as saying. Zoellick said the particular shipment didn't affect safety, according to Boyle.


Japan announced late Friday it would stop US 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 aged 20 months or younger, which are believed 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.


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


Still, Zoellick told Nakagawa the US had begun investigating the matter, removed the company involved from its export program, and that a group of senior agricultural experts would arrive Monday to meet with Japanese officials, 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 US inspections.


Zoellick is slated to meet senior officials on Monday, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, who has also said he would lodge a complaint.


Meanwhile, Japan on Sunday faced 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 on Monday, according to Agricultural Ministry official Toshiro Kawashima.


Japan has had 21 confirmed cases of mad cow disease, compared to two cases in the US. But Tokyo tests all cattle slaughtered for food, as well as all cattle 24 months or older that die of other causes, Kawashima said.


The Hokkaido cow was not raised for food, Kawashima said.


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 Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.


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


(Chinadaily.com.cn via agencies, January 23, 2006)


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