UPDATE 1-Japan halts beef imports from one U.S. meat plant

Thu Nov 29, 2012 12:54pm EST

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TOKYO Nov 29 (Reuters) - Japan stopped importing beef from a U.S. meat plant on Thursday after American authorities failed to confirm that beef met Japan's safety requirements, the health and farm ministries said.

Cargoes of beef from a plant of Cargill Inc in Schuyler, Nebraska, which arrived Tokyo on Nov. 22, included a package without quarantine documents, and two Japanese ministries asked U.S. authorities to confirm the age of the cattle concerned.

The import halt came after U.S. authorities said they could not confirm the beef met Japan's requirements of cattle aged 20 months or younger, the two ministers said in a joint statement.

"This is an unfortunate situation in which a third party cold storage company used by Cargill's beef processing plant at Schuyler, Nebraska placed a single box of beef that should not have been exported into a container shipment going to Japan," Cargill spokesman Michael Martin said.

"This was not an error on the part of Cargill's Schuyler, Nebraska, beef processing facility," he added. "Cargill is working with the appropriate authorities to rectify this situation as quickly as possible."

Japan is on the way to relaxing the regulations to cattle aged 30 months or younger, as its food safety watchdog said in a report to the government in October that the risk from doing so would be negligible to human health.

The rules, imposed in 2005 after the outbreak of mad cow disease, known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE, have caused U.S. imports to plunge and Australian beef to gain market share in Japan's 500,000 tonnes-a-year imported beef market.

Japan and U.S. governments were currently in talks on relaxing the age of cattle for U.S. beef imports to Japan and the timing and other details were not yet fixed, a heath ministry official said.

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