Japan’s farm ministry has confirmed that the country is to once again halt beef imports from the US over BSE fears just weeks after it lifted a two-year ban.

A shipment of veal was discovered by the ministry’s Narita International Airport animal quarantine branch that contained a veal backbone said officials.

Japan had banned the import of US beef in December 2003 but lifted the ban on December 12 on condition that the meat comes from cows aged 20 months or younger and spinal cords and other specified risk material, including backbones, that could transmit mad cow disease are removed.

The ministry said the offending shipment of beef had been sent to incinerators and is now considering destroying US beef being held at ports and that available in warehouses and stores.

Japan’s PM Junichiro Koizumi told a press conference that “ensuring food safety is extremely important, I think that a total halt is a good idea.”

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Exports of American beef to Japan were worth USD$1.4bn in 2003.

The US says it has now rescinded the export license for the plant that shipped the veal, Brooklyn-based Atlantic Veal & Lamb and had instigated a probe into the breach of export to Japan regulations.