Rubashkin Scandal Damages Japan-US Relations

Nope. You read it right. The Rubashkin scandal has now gone international. The Washington Post reports:

Japan’s vice farm minister said on Monday his ministry would seek further explanations from the United States about its beef inspection system after Hong Kong suspended U.S. beef imports.

Japan wants to know why beef shipped to Hong Kong from a plant of U.S. beef company Swift & Co. contained banned cattle parts, Vice Agriculture Minister Mamoru Ishihara said.

"It was very disappointing," Ishihara said when asked by reporters about the U.S. violation of its beef trade agreement with Hong Kong, which came nearly two months after Japan detected a similar violation in its inspection of a shipment of U.S. veal.

The U.S. plant that made an ineligible shipment to Hong Kong is also one of the U.S. meat-packing plants certified by the U.S. Agriculture Department as eligible beef suppliers to Japan.

Ishihara said that the latest violation may answer Japanese questions about whether the ineligible U.S. shipment to Japan was an isolated case or a systematical problem.

"We will think about the issue while taking into account the incident in Hong Kong," Ishihara said.

Hong Kong has suspended beef imports from the U.S. processing plant following the discovery of beef imports with bones from the plant during an inspection last week at Hong Kong airport.

On December 29, Hong Kong partially lifted its ban on U.S. beef that had been in place since late 2003 on worries about mad cow disease. Hong Kong was the fifth-largest market for U.S. beef products in 2003.

According to their agreement, only boneless beef from cattle less than 30 months of age — with high risk material such as brain and spinal cord removed during the slaughtering — could be imported to Hong Kong from designated plants approved by the United States.

Japan suspended U.S. beef imports on January 20, just a month after it eased a two-year-old ban on American beef imposed over mad cow disease fears, when Japanese inspectors discovered banned spinal material in a veal shipment from New York.

The Japanese government has said it cannot allow imports to resume until Washington finds the cause of the violation and takes steps to prevent a recurrence.

In a report submitted to Japan on February 17, the U.S. Agriculture Department said that a U.S. firm made an ineligible shipment because the exporter and the USDA inspector were not sufficiently familiar with the requirements of Japan’s beef export program.

The veal was shipped by Atlantic Veal and Lamb and supplied by Golden Veal, both of which were certified on January 6. USDA personnel confirmed at the time that both understood the requirements of the program.

In the report, the USDA concluded they were confident that the circumstances surrounding the ineligible shipment were unique because it was the first and only shipment of veal to Japan under the beef export program.

Last week Japan sent a list of questions about the U.S. report. Ishihara said on Monday that the USDA would reply the Japanese questions as early as this week, and might send officials to Japan for technical-level talks over the issue.

Ishihara also said Japan expected U.S. explanation about a different report from the USDA’s inspector general that said federal inspectors overseeing an Iowa plant operated by AgriProcessors Inc. failed to properly inspect cattle carcasses and report violations.

The USDA under George W. Bush – what can one say?

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