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USDA completes investigation of beef shipment to Japan

Agriculture.com Staff 02/17/2006 @ 7:00am

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today announced the results of an investigation into the ineligible shipment of veal that was sent to Japan last month. He also released a comprehensive USDA report that details the findings of the investigation and actions taken by USDA, according to a government press release.

"The thoroughness of this report demonstrates just how serious we are about addressing this incident and providing assurance to our trading partners that our system is among the best in the world," said Johanns. "I believe our actions fully address the facts that led to this incident and provide added protections on a broader scale to prevent similar problems in the future."

The report, which totals 475 pages, establishes several facts surrounding the ineligible shipment, including noting that it posed no risk to human health. The report lays out the unique circumstances surrounding this shipment: it was the first shipment of veal sent to Japan; only two plants were certified to ship veal to Japan; and both of them were delisted before any other shipments were sent to Japan. In addition, veal had only recently been added to the U.S. export agreement with Japan.

The document relayed to Japan contains two distinct reports: an investigation by the Food Safety and Inspection Service and an audit by the Office of the Inspector General. In total, it contains eleven findings: five resulting from the FSIS investigation and six from a separate Inspector General's audit, with the findings closely mirroring each other.

The report concludes that mistakes were made by the plants involved with the shipment and by USDA inspection personnel. Those mistakes resulted from a lack of understanding of which products were eligible for shipment to Japan. The ineligible product included veal with the vertebral column intact and veal offal.

In addition, the report concludes that FSIS inspection program personnel at the establishment were not sufficiently aware of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Export Verification program and should not have certified or approved the shipment of ineligible product to Japan.

USDA is taking several actions in response to the findings of this report, in addition to the actions that were announced on January 20, when USDA learned of the ineligible shipment. These actions go beyond the circumstances of this incident to incorporate further efficiencies and protections into the U.S. export system. These actions can be summarized as follows:

All FSIS inspectors who work in plants that are certified to export beef are undergoing additional mandatory training to ensure they fully understand U.S. export agreements. USDA will require plants to maintain a list of specific products they are certified to ship to any country, instead of a blanket export certification and that list will be kept readily available to USDA inspectors. USDA inspectors in the plants will be notified of changes to a plant's eligibility to export at three separate times in the certification process: when the plant applies for certification, when the plant is audited and when a plant is certified or delisted. Final export certification cannot be completed until in-plant inspectors have undergone additional training, ensuring coordination between AMS and FSIS.

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