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US Seeks Reversal of Japan's Ban on Beef


The U.S. government is rushing a high-level delegation to Japan, in hopes of persuading Tokyo to reverse its sudden reinstatement of a total ban on U.S. beef imports. Emotions in Tokyo are running high, after a newly allowed shipment of U.S. beef was found to contain parts that could possibly carry mad cow disease.

The American Embassy here announced that a high-ranking U.S. Agriculture Department delegation would make an emergency trip to Japan Monday. The delegation's job will be damage control. Japan has again banned all imports of U.S. beef, just a couple of weeks after allowing a partial resumption of shipments.

U.S. officials say the delegation will be lead by Agriculture Undersecretary J.B. Penn. He and his colleagues will try to assure the Japanese government - and the Japanese public - that the United States will take all steps to comply with Japan's strict beef import regulations.

Public anger is high here, after the discovery by customs agents of spinal material in a shipment of veal chops from New York. Consumer organizations are expressing outrage that after last month's partial lifting of a two-year ban on American beef, one of the first shipments contained material that could contain bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease.

Yukio Hatoyama is secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Party. He told reporters Saturday that U.S. beef imports should not resume until the United States shows it can correct its faulty inspection system.

Hatoyama says the ban was lifted prematurely because of pressure from the United States. He says the Japanese government made a big mistake, caving in to that pressure in order to ensure a smooth visit to Japan by President Bush last year.

Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Shinzo Abe, expressed the government's anger with the United States in a speech Saturday.

Abe says Japan will not re-open its borders to American beef until the U.S. government is able to explain how and why this mistake happened.

He says he will lodge a formal protest when he meets here early next week with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick.

Zoellick had intended to press for an even wider lifting of the ban on American beef. Now he will find himself on the defensive instead, with the Japanese government and consumers expecting to hear an explanation.