Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today (17 February) revealed the results of the Department of Agriculture investigation into how a shipment of ineligible veal was shipped to Japan.

The shipment, which included beef cuts thought to pose a higher risk of BSE contamination and banned by the US-Japan trade agreement, arrived on Japanese shores just days after the two-year import ban on US beef was lifted by the Asian country.

The report, which totalled 475 pages, emphasised the exceptional circumstances surrounding the veal shipment and notes that it posed no risk to human health. The report states that the shipment was the first shipment of veal sent to Japan. Only two plants were certified to ship veal and both of them were delisted before any other shipments were sent to Japan. In addition, veal had only recently been added to the US export agreement with Japan.

The report concludes that mistakes were made by the plants involved and by USDA inspection personnel. Those mistakes, it says, were the consequence of a poor understanding of which products were eligible for shipment to Japan. In addition, the report concludes that FSIS inspection programme personnel should not have certified the shipment of ineligible products.

“The thoroughness of this report demonstrates just how serious we are about addressing this incident and providing assurance to our trading partners that our system is among the best in the world,” said Johanns. “I believe our actions fully address the facts that led to this incident and provide added protections on a broader scale to prevent similar problems in the future.”

In addition to the actions that were announced when the USDA learnt that the trade agreement had been broken, the USDA will undertake additional training of inspection personnel and implement additional check procedures before products can be certified for export. Individual plants will be certified to ship specific products, rather than given blanket export certification.

The US clearly hopes that these additional safety precautions will go some way to convincing the Japanese Government to reopen its borders to US beef and reassuring Japanese consumers that US beef is safe to eat.