Yonhap  /  Reuters
A quarantine inspector displays vertebral columns found in U.S. beef shipments at the main office of the National Veterinary Research Quarantine Service in Anyang, South Korea, on Thursday.
updated 8/2/2007 5:49:12 AM ET 2007-08-02T09:49:12

South Korea has effectively suspended U.S. beef imports over mad cow concerns after a recent shipment was found to have contained banned parts, a news report said Thursday.

The Agriculture Ministry said it halted quarantine inspections of American beef shipments Wednesday after finding a banned vertebral column in a recent shipment, Yonhap news agency reported. Without such inspections, the beef cannot be brought to market.

The banned part is considered a “specified risk material” that could carry mad cow disease.

South Korea shut its doors to American beef in December 2003 after mad cow disease — or bovine spongiform encephalopathy — was found in cattle in the U.S. It partially reopened its market last year but agreed to accept only boneless meat from cattle under 30 months old, thought to be less at risk of carrying the illness.

Although there have been other imports of U.S. beef since the ban was relaxed, South Korean consumers had not been able to buy the meat at regular supermarkets until last month.

Tokyo meeting focusses on U.S. beef
Also Thursday, Japan and the U.S. started a technical meeting in Tokyo to discuss keeping U.S. beef imports free of mad cow disease amid Washington’s calls for Japan to relax its import restrictions.

Tokyo only allows imports of U.S. beef from cattle 20 months old or younger. Meat with certain bone or spinal material attached cannot be imported.

The two-day, closed meeting will focus on fresh data provided by the U.S. on cattle feed and the surveillance system in the United States upon request from Japan, according to Agriculture Ministry official Toshio Katagai.

The meeting is a follow-up to previous talks held in June. A briefing on the results was planned for Friday.

Like South Korea, Japan also banned American beef imports in December 2003. Japan eased its ban in December 2005 but tightened restrictions again the following month after prohibited spinal bones were found in a veal shipment.

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