Opposition leaders in Japan took the government to task yesterday for lifting a ban on U.S. beef imports last month, only to be forced to reimpose it over a shipment containing banned animal matter.
"The government's political responsibility is extremely grave," Yoshihiko Noda, chief of parliamentary affairs for the main opposition Democratic Party, said on a panel discussion.
"The government dared to take the decision (on the resumption of U.S. beef imports) without guaranteeing the effectiveness of the inspection system," he said.
Tokyo had agreed to resume U.S. beef imports last month provided they came from U.S. cattle no more than 20 months old and risky animal parts, such as brains and spinal material, were removed. But a U.S. beef shipment flown into Tokyo's Narita airport on Friday was found to include spinal columns, prompting Japan to reimpose the ban over fears of mad cow disease.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe on Saturday pledged to lodge a formal protest with the U.S. administration when Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick holds talks with top officials in Japan this week.
Abe, a close ally of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, and Foreign Minister Taro Aso were scheduled to meet Zoellick here today.
Noda said a fact-finding team from his party had determined that U.S. facilities to inspect beef for export were poorly organized.
Keiji Kokuta, Noda's counterpart at the Japan Communist Party, told the same panel: "The root of the matter is that the government submitted itself to U.S. demands by throwing aside the safety of food."
Japanese newspaper editorials over the weekend unanimously stood by the reinstatement of the ban as a "matter of course," but some criticized the government for allowing beef imports into the country prematurely.