Japan said Wednesday it has halted beef imports from one U.S. meatpacking plant after finding a shipment with improper documentation, a development that may test the public's concern about the safety of American beef imports.
The Agriculture and Health ministries decided to halt shipments from Swift and Company's plant in Greeley, Colorado after a shipment from the facility arrived in Osaka without proper documentation for some of the internal organs contained within, Agriculture Ministry official Yasushi Yamaguchi said.
The Japanese government has asked the U.S. government to investigate the mishap and outline measures to prevent a recurrence, Yamaguchi said. After receiving a report from the U.S. side, the Japanese will send a delegation to the Greeley plant to review whether it is following rules for export to Japan before allowing trade to resume.
"We are very concerned about what appears to be a simple error because it comes so soon after Japan lifted its import ban," Yamaguchi said. The suspect package was only of 760 boxes containing 11 tons of frozen beef and beef tongue.
Tokyo eased its two-year blanket ban on U.S. beef in July, ending a long-standing trade dispute that pit U.S. ranchers against Japanese health officials who were worried about the risk of mad cow disease.
Japan initially banned U.S. beef in December 2003 after the first reported case of mad cow disease in a U.S. herd.
It eased the ban in July after U.S. and Japanese officials hammered out a deal that included strict restrictions and stringent checks at U.S. meat processing plants.
Currently, Tokyo limits the trade to meat from cows aged 20 months or younger that are handled by a select list of U.S. meat exporters. But many Japanese remain worried about mad cow disease, a degenerative nerve disease found in older cattle that has been linked to the rare but fatal human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and feel uneasy about U.S. safeguard measures.
The internal organs in the suspect shipment were not deemed at-risk meat parts for mad cow disease, but they triggered alarm because they were shipped without the proper customs documentation, Yamaguchi said.
The other boxes in the shipment had the proper paperwork.