USDA needs to move ‘quickly and firmly’ to restore Japan’s confidence in U.S. beef
by John Gregerson
1/23/2006 for Meatingplace.com
U.S. and Japanese officials were set to meet over the weekend to begin to untangle how vertebrae parts wound up in beef shipped from the United States to Tokyo, and what Japan will require of the U.S. beef industry and Agriculture Department before it reopens it border to U.S. beef. The vertebrae parts, among the tissue types Japan has banned as a condition of reopening its markets to U.S. beef, were discovered at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport on Friday in an 860-pound product shipment from New York. Kyodo News reported the shipment was made by Brooklyn, N.Y.-based packer Atlantic Veal & Lamb. Japan immediately reimposed its ban on U.S. beef following the discovery of the vertebrae parts. Though it didn’t identify the U.S. packer responsible for the shipment, USDA indicated the company had been delisted for export of beef products to Japan. U.S. Meat Export Federation President Philip M. Seng said that USDA would need to respond “quickly and firmly” in assuring Japanese officials that USDA and the U.S. beef industry are willing and able to comply with trade provisions between Japan and the United States. “It’s very important that the USDA respond quickly and thoroughly to questions the Japanese may have in order to put the issue to rest before it has a chance to germinate,” Seng told Meatingplace.com. “That means elucidating to Japan what transpired, how it transpired and what is planned to prevent it from happening again.” He said the fact that USDA and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns moved quickly to address the issue, both in dispatching USDA inspectors to Japan and boosting inspection efforts in the United States, may bode well for talks between the two countries. In particular, Seng lauded a move by Johanns to require a second FSIS signature on export certificates. “We’ve jarred Japanese confidence in USDA and we may have to go a little over the edge in order to regain that confidence,” he said. Seng added he wouldn’t be surprised if the Japanese require a more thorough audit of U.S. processing operations by Japanese inspectors as a condition for resuming imports of U.S. beef product. “They may want to observe all 100 percent of the plants deemed eligible to export beef to Japan.”NCBA demands full investigationMeanwhile, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association CEO Terry Stokes insisted that the situation be fully investigated, while emphasizing that “what’s being investigated is a technical violation, not a beef safety issue” since bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which is associated with bovine nervous system tissue, is indigenous to older cattle. Prior to the ban, only beef product from cattle 20 months of age and younger had been shipped to Japan. American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle said AMI has been told the product in question was veal from cattle six months of age. “Despite this shipment, sent in error … U.S. beef and veal remain among the safest in the world,” he said.