Japan suspends beef imports from Tyson plant

by Bryan Salvage
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TOKYO — Beef shipments from the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Lexington, Neb. were suspended by Japan on Oct. 10 after the company mistakenly shipped bone-in products that are banned as part of a trade agreement between the two countries. As a result, some trade officials in Japan have raised concerns about U.S. safeguards against bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Bovine spinal columns were found by Japanese inspectors in one of 732 boxes shipped from Tyson Fresh Meats Inc., which arrived in Japan in late September, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said. The box contained 35 lbs. of chilled short loin with spinal bones, which were not released commercially, said ministry official Goshi Nakata.

The suspension only affects Tyson's Lexington, Neb. facility, which is one of 46 meatpacking plants approved to export beef to Japan. However, it was the second suspension for the Lexington factory, the ministry official said. Japan imposed a four-month ban on beef shipments from the same plant in February 2007 after finding two boxes of beef lacking verifications to show they came from cattle that met Japan's safety standards, AP relayed.

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson told Meat&Poultry.com a single box containing two beef short loins was inadvertently included in a shipment to Japan. While the product meets Japanese age restrictions on imported beef and is safe to eat, it does not comply with Japanese regulations prohibiting imported beef containing bone from the vertebral column.

"The 35 lb. box of short loins was discovered by our customer and did not enter commerce," he added. "We’re investigating the cause of the mix-up, which involved our Lexington, Neb., beef plant, and in cooperation with U.S.D.A. we will take corrective measures so the plant can once again supply our Japanese customers."

Tyson has seven other beef plants that are approved to ship product to Japan.

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