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USDA not surprised with Japan's 'typical' call for more info: Johanns+
[February 21, 2006]

USDA not surprised with Japan's 'typical' call for more info: Johanns+

(Japan Economic Newswire Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)WASHINGTON, Feb. 21_(Kyodo) _ U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Tuesday that the United States is willing to give additional information regarding the beef issue in line with Japan's requests, saying he is not surprised with such a "typical" call from Tokyo.

Johanns made the comments after his Japanese counterpart Shoichi Nakagawa said Monday that Japan views a U.S. investigation report submitted Friday on the issue of banned backbone material included in a veal shipment last month as "insufficient" so it plans to make various inquiries with Washington.

"We're not surprised by the response that they want additional information," Johanns told reporters after addressing a farm forum. "That is very typical with Japan."

Johanns noted that he had anticipated such a request and said he "would have been surprised if they would have said the report is good and let's go."

"We'll provide additional information," Johanns said, expressing hope to resolve the issue and encourage Japan to lift its import ban reimposed on U.S. beef Jan. 20 after the discovery of the material restricted under a bilateral agreement due to a risk of mad cow disease.

Johanns said he may hold talks on the beef issue with Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Nakagawa on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting of major nations and regions slated for March in London under the World Trade Organization.

In the report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture admitted a flaw in the inspection system for compliance with an agreement with Japan, concluding that veal containing banned vertebral column was shipped to Japan due to "inadequate familiarity" on the part of exporters and inspectors about the agreed export requirements.

But the USDA also stressed that the incident did not indicate a weakness of the overall system because it was a "unique" case involving a single veal shipment and export requirements that go beyond U.S. safety standards.

Johanns indicated that the USDA also sees that problems existed not only on the part of an exporter but also a Japanese importer.

"Obviously, there was some confusion by the person who made the order and by the company that supplied that product," Johanns said.

"Having said that, we didn't do that report to blame it on anybody," he said. "We accept the responsibility...We're going to fix that."

But again stressing that he sees it "really as a unique situation," Johanns said veal was added to the export requirements only "few days" before Japan lifted its two-year-old import ban on U.S. beef in December.

"The (veal) plant or the inspection just wasn't ready for exports to Japan," he said, noting that the beef industry is otherwise "very familiar" with the requirements.

The report suggested that there was a misunderstanding between the two nations over the terms of veal and beef.

The incident raised concerns in Japan as it came only a month after Tokyo lifted its original ban on condition that imports are limited to meat from cattle aged up to 20 months and that brains, spinal cords and other specified materials are removed before shipment.

The U.S. safeguard standards require removing risk materials only from cattle aged 30 months or older.

In Tokyo on Monday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said it is "quite difficult" for Japan to resume imports, citing a perception gap between Japan and the United States over food safety.

Koizumi made the comments after being briefed by Nakagawa, who later told reporters the U.S. report is insufficient in terms of both its investigation and measures to prevent a recurrence.

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