By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press Writer
More than 2,000 tons of U.S. beef has piled up at Japanese customs warehouses after this month’s renewed import ban, an industry official said Tuesday.
Tokyo eased its ban on U.S. beef imports on Dec. 12, but halted imports again this month after a beef shipment arrived in Japan containing banned spinal bones, which considers to be at risk for mad cow disease.
Some 1,380 tons of beef products imported from the United States have been held up at Japanese ports since Jan. 20, when Tokyo halted the imports for the second time, or are currently in shipment, according to Tatsuo Iwama, executive director of Japan Meat Traders Association.
By adding those imported by companies outside the association’s 17 U.S. beef importers, the amount of stranded beef products could reach as much as 2,300 tons, Iwama added.
Beef and shipping costs for the importers were as much as 2 billion yen, or $17 million, he said.
Most of the intended U.S. beef imports were high quality chilled beef, with the consumption date expiring within two months, Iwama said.
The association plans to ask the government’s help to arrange a deal so they can have the U.S. exporters take them back and cover the entire cost, he said.
“The problem was caused by the U.S. side, so we would like the party with primary responsibility to take care of the cost,” Iwama said. “It’s so unfortunate that we’re going through the trouble immediately after the import resumed.”
According to Japanese customs inspector Koichi Tsunokami, goods subject to import suspension are usually returned to senders, sent to a third country or disposed of, because keeping unwanted goods only costs importers storage fees.
“The U.S. beef products cannot go through customs and there will be no quarantine for them,” Tsunokami said. “They will have to be returned to senders, sent to a third country or disposed here.”
When Japan banned American beef products in December 2003, most Japanese importers sent them back to exporters, he added. Many others burned them at their own expense.
According to a poll released by the Asahi newspaper Tuesday, 62 percent of the Japanese said they don’t want to eat American beef when it returns to Japanese stores, compared to 30 percent who said they would try it. The Asahi, which surveyed 1,915 adults through telephone interviews over the weekend, gave no margin of error.
The U.S. beef products issue on Monday also brought chaos to the Diet, or parliament, as Agricultural Minister Shoichi Nakagawa admitted Tokyo failed to inspect U.S. cattle facilities before easing the ban, inviting a flurry of criticism and prompting opposition lawmakers to walk out of a session.
The Food Safety Commission approved lifting the previous ban on conditions that imports be limited to meat from cows aged 20 months or less and that parts of cattle thought to be at particularly high risk of containing mad cow disease be removed.