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Koizumi puts U.S. trade interests before food safety
The government broke the promise to carry out inspections of U.S. meat processing facilities before lifting the ban on U.S. beef imports, an attitude that puts the U.S. demand for Japan's beef import resumption before citizens' lives and safety.
U.S. pressured Japan into canceling inspections
On November 18, 2005, the government decided to send inspectors to the U.S. before allowing beef into Japan. On January 30, at the House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting, Agriculture Minister Nakagawa Shoichi admitted that no such inspection took place before resuming imports and offered an apology.
At a press conference later in the day, Vice Minister Ishihara Mamoru explained why the agricultural ministry failed to inspect U.S. meatpackers.
Reporter: Did the U.S. ask Japan not to inspect meatpackers?
Ishihara: In the Japan-U.S. meeting, the U.S. explained that it will deal with the matter on its own.
Reporter: You mean the U.S. wanted Japan to not inspect meatpackers before resuming imports?
Ishihara: The U.S. asked us to leave everything to them.
The fact of the matter is that the government did not conduct inspections due to pressure from the U.S.
At a meeting in October 2004, Japanese and U.S. senior government officials agreed to regularly carry out inspections of U.S. beef-processing facilities after the Japanese government lifts the ban on beef imports. From the outset, the U.S. had no intention to accept the Japanese request for prior inspections.
At the January 30 Diet Committee meeting, Nakagawa lacked consistency in the remarks he made in answer to questions by Dietmembers. Although the government finally offered the Diet a unified government view, it fell short of explaining the reasons for its failure to hold inspections.
Food safety panel finds it difficult to prove U.S. beef is as safe as Japan's
In December 2003, the government decided to impose a blanket ban on U.S. beef imports following the discovery in the United States of cattle infected with BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy).
Since then, the United States has urged Japan to lift the ban at the earliest possible time insisting that the current rule requiring all cows to be tested for BSE has "no scientific grounds."
Yielding to U.S. pressure, the Japanese government has eased the testing standards by exempting cattle 20 months or younger from required testing.
In October 2004, Japan and the U.S. agreed on a framework of terms of Japan's resumption of beef imports.
A year later, Christopher R. Hill, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs testified in Congress stating, "We strongly urge Japan to resume beef imports from the United States without further delay."
U.S. President George W. Bush also urged the Japanese government to resume U.S. beef imports as soon as the Food Safety Commission (FSC) drafted a report.
Relying on the FSC's prion expert panel report, the government lifted the embargo in December 2005. The report, however, stated that data concerning the safety of U.S. beef leave many questions unaccounted for and concluded that it is difficult to scientifically establish that U.S. beef is as safe as Japanese beef.
The Japanese government insists that the United States is to blame for the beef shipment that contained dangerous parts. But, judging from these processes, the Koizumi government undoubtedly bears responsibility for having resumed U.S. beef imports, giving top priority to the U.S. demand while neglecting to ensure "food safety" for the Japanese public.
- Akahata, February 1, 2006
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