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Thursday, July 27, 2006

U.S. beef ban on its way to being lifted Thursday; first batch already on ice


Staff writer

A Liberal Democratic Party policy panel gave the go-ahead Wednesday to lift the import ban on U.S. beef, with official government approval expected the following day.

During a meeting of the committee on quarantine and consumption safety, senior officials from the agriculture and health ministries explained their monthlong on-site inspections of 35 meatpacking plants, and eight related facilities or farms in the U.S. that ended Sunday.

Of the 35 meatpackers authorized in December to ship beef to Japan, one was not put on the approval list because the firm, which underwent a merger in June, had not completed its manual for shipping beef to Japan when it was inspected.

One procedural problem was found at another meatpacker during the latest round of inspections. The firm sent beef to Japan that had been processed before it received its authorization in December. The shipment was made after authorization was received.

That meat already has been distributed in Japan, government officials said at the committee meeting. It had been reported that the meat was being held by customs along with about 1,000 tons of beef seized when the import ban was reinstated in January.

However, according to the report from the two ministries, it met Japanese criteria, including the removal of body parts that Tokyo considers to be a high risk for mad cow disease.

The meatpacker, whose name was not given, was included on the approval list Wednesday on condition that the U.S. government will keep an eye on it for about two months and then report on its compliance to Japan.

The U.S. beef customs is holding will be inspected and released about three months after imports are resumed.

Tokyo first closed its doors to U.S. beef in December 2003 after a Canadian-born cow in Washington state tested positive for mad cow disease.

Japan resumed U.S. beef imports in December but halted them again in January when spinal material was found in a U.S. veal shipment at Narita airport.



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