MARI YAMAGUCHI Associated Press Writer
TOKYO Japan is preparing to approve a resumption of imports of U.S. beef this week, officials said today, despite a report that Japanese inspectors found problems at some U.S. meat processing plants. Officials from Japan’s agriculture and health ministries are expected to decide soon, possibly when the Food Safety Commission meets Thursday, on whether to allow U.S. beef back into Japan. But Japanese inspectors who toured U.S. meat processing facilities have found compliance problems “at one or two facilities,” the Yomiuri newspaper reported Tuesday, citing unidentified Health Ministry officials. The inspectors returned on Sunday after a month touring 35 U. S. meat processing facilities to find out if they meet Japanese guidelines. Japan banned U.S. beef earlier this year amid concerns about mad cow disease, but agreed in principle to resume imports last month on the condition that Japanese inspectors found no problems at U.S. plants.
Experts are currently examining the inspection results and details cannot yet be disclosed, Health Ministry official Kenichi Watanabe told The Associated Press. He said Japanese officials have not decided what to do if any problems are found at the U. S. plants. Japan lifted an earlier ban on U. S. beef late last year, but reimposed it in January after inspectors found a shipment containing banned animal parts. Health and agriculture officials were compiling a report on the inspections, and the government is expected to announce which facilities have been approved to provide beef for the Japanese market. A ruling Liberal Democratic Party beef panel is scheduled to meet on Wednesday and the Food Safety Commission members are scheduled to gather for a regular meeting on Thursday to discuss the report.
“We cannot delay a decision for no reason,” Agriculture Ministry official Hiroaki Ogura said. Tokyo has faced growing pressure from Washington to reopen its beef market. Japan was a huge consumer of U.S. beef before 2003, when it imposed an import ban over concerns about possible mad cow disease formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE among U.S. cattle. In humans, eating meat contaminated with BSE is linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a rare and deadly nerve disease.