U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick told Japanese Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa yesterday that a beef shipment to Japan that resulted in a renewed ban on U.S. imports was an unacceptable mistake, according to a U.S. Embassy official.
Japan, the biggest market for American beef, had just last month lifted a ban on imports imposed in 2003 after a U.S. case of the brain wasting mad cow disease.
The discovery on Friday of spinal material, believed to have a higher risk of causing a fatal human form of mad cow, in a shipment from the United States, prompted Japan to renew the ban.
Tokyo had lifted the ban under strict conditions, including a stipulation that materials such as spinal cord tissue be removed.
Experts believe humans can contract a type of mad cow, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), by eating contaminated meat.
Zoellick, who met with Nakagawa for about an hour in Tokyo, also expressed sincere regret, the official at the U.S. embassy in Tokyo said.
“The U.S. has a commitment to Japan regarding beef exports and that is a commitment that we take seriously,” the official quoted Zoellick as saying, adding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has launched an investigation.
Nakagawa later told reporters he had called on Zoellick to take thorough measures so the agreement between the two nations on beef imports would not be violated again.