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Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2006

U.S. official tries to play down risky beef shipment


Staff writer

U.S. agricultural official J.B. Penn tried Tuesday to minimize the impact of a recent shipment of banned U.S. beef material, saying it was "an isolated incident" carried out by a meatpacker inexperienced in export procedures.

"We believe this was a case of a company and an inspector being only marginally involved in international commerce," the undersecretary for farm and agricultural services told a news conference at the U.S. Embassy after meeting with Japanese officials.

Penn said the firm's inspectors were not fully aware of the export requirements, leading to the shipment with vertebral column, which was supposed to be removed for the Japanese market.

Earlier in the day, Penn and a U.S. agricultural delegation met with Japanese officials to apologize for the incident and to assure them that an investigation is under way to find out how and why banned spinal cord materials were not removed before it was shipped to Japan.

Penn said the U.S. will come up with additional measures to prevent a recurrence if necessary. The Agriculture Department will compile a report as early as possible, he said, although he did not provide a specific time frame.

On Friday, Japan reimposed its ban on U.S. beef after inspectors found materials posing a risk of mad cow disease were included in a shipment to Japan. The incident led to increased concerns over the U.S. inspection system by Japanese consumers.

Penn noted that the Japanese standard on U.S. beef is stricter than international and U.S. criteria, hinting this may be the reason for the lack of knowledge on the side of the inspectors.

"This is a product that is widely accepted in many other parts of the world and that is widely consumed in the U.S.," Penn said. "The portion of the backbone that is being questioned is not considered a specified risk material by the international standard-setting body or the U.S."



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