"Unsafe" U.S. beef may have been sold in Japan
TOKYO (Reuters) - U.S. beef that does not meet Japanese safety regulations has been imported into the country and some may have been already sold to consumers, the Japanese government said on late on Saturday.
The U.S. government notified Tokyo that about 1.3 tons of beef from 21-month-old cattle -- above Japan's import limit on the cattle age -- was in 21 tons of meat exported to Japan since November, and processed at Moyer Packing Company of Smithfield Beef Group, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods <SFD.N> since November.
A computer programming mistake at the U.S. firm led to the erroneous shipments, the statement said.
Japan suspended beef imports from the facility and ordered two Japanese importers, Marudai Foods <2288.T> and Shinwa Ox <2654.OS>, to recall the beef.
The beef did not include risky materials, such as spinal cords, thought to carry the risk of spreading the mad cow disease.
Violations of Japanese import regulations concerning U.S. beef shipments have taken place since Japan conditionally lifted its import ban in 2006, but have been discovered before the meat reached consumers.
Japan currently bans imports of U.S. beef from cattle of more than 20 months old -- stricter than a 30-month threshold many countries have as a guideline for importing U.S. beef.
Washington has been demanding Japan relax the rule to keep it in line with other countries.
Japan initially banned imports of all U.S. beef after the discovery of the first case of mad cow disease in the United States in December 2003.
It resumed imports in December 2005 but re-imposed the ban in January 2006 after bone fragments were found in a shipment of veal. It lifted the ban again in July 2006.
(Reporting by Hideyuki Sano; Editing by Valerie Lee)