But on Friday, Japan once again halted imports, after its inspectors found veal with spinal cords attached in three of 41 boxes of frozen beef shipped from New York.
The USDA says the tissue Japan found which was in beef under 30 months old -- is not prohibited in the U.S. food supply, but is forbidden under the agreement with Japan, where officials there believe the material is at risk for mad cow disease.
Within hours of Japan's announcement, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns already had taken action, which included:
- Barring the plant in question from shipping more beef to Japan.
- Considering disciplinary action against the government inspector who cleared the shipment.
- Sending extra inspectors to every plant that exports meat to Japan to review procedures and ensure compliance with U.S. export agreements.
- ordering unannounced inspections at plants.
- And dispatching USDA investigators to Japan.
Agriculture department officials said Japan will hold U.S. beef at Japanese ports and decide later whether to impose a ban.
This setback for U.S. beef comes on the heels of recent "welcomed" announcements from other Asian countries reopening their markets to American beef. Just Thursday, Singapore officially ended a ban. In the past few weeks, Hong Kong and South Korea had also reopened their markets. All three of those countries are accepting only boneless cuts of beef from animals 30 months and younger.
The USDA says, since the discovery of a BSE-infected cow in the U.S., $4.8 (b) billion dollars worth of U.S. beef and beef product exports were banned. The Administration says markets accounting for $3.8 (b) have since been recovered