TOKYO Japan does not plan to halt imports of U.S. beef after the discovery of a U.S. shipment that included parts banned due to the risk of mad cow disease, Japan's government spokesman told a news conference on Thursday.
Tokyo has suspended imports from the meatpacker that supplied the beef, a National Beef Packing Co plant in California, after the discovery. "It seems it was shipped to Japan by mistake," Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said.
"I don't think there is a need to suspend imports," he said.
But Machimura added that Japan would increase testing, aiming to check 10 percent of incoming U.S. beef cargoes, up from the current 1 percent.
Japan has halted imports of U.S. beef from other plants, but these have mostly been due to improper documentation or other technical reasons.
It was the first time Japan discovered banned specific risk materials (SRM) in a cargo of U.S. beef since July 2006, when Tokyo eased its beef import ban.
Japan, like many other nations, first imposed a ban on U.S. beef in 2003 after the United States discovered a case of mad cow disease.
But Machimura added that the incident could again fan fears about the safety of U.S. beef in Japan.
Doubts about the safety of U.S. beef, which had been slowly easing, has been one of the reasons behind the slow return of the meat to Japan, once the top overseas market for U.S. beef.
Japan, which bought $1.4 billion worth of U.S. beef in 2003, has resumed imports but on strict condition, including that the meat only came from cattle aged 20 months or younger.
The United States has been pressing Japan to scrap all restrictions.
(Reporting by Leika Kihara and Miho Yoshikawa; Editing by Hugh Lawson)