Renewed U.S. Beef Ban Stokes Fear in Japan

From Times Wire Services

Worry spread among Japanese consumers Saturday after Tokyo reimposed a ban on U.S. beef imports over concerns about mad cow disease.

Japan, the biggest foreign market for American beef, last month lifted a ban on imports imposed in 2003 after a U.S. case of mad cow disease. The ban had become an irritant in the two countries' ties, prompting strong pressure from Washington.

Tokyo lifted the ban after imposing strict conditions, including stipulations that parts believed to carry a higher risk of mad cow disease, such as spinal cord tissue, be removed.

But officials said Friday that an inspection at Tokyo's Narita airport had found spinal material in beef imported from a New York meatpacker.

The announcement raised questions among Japanese about the initial decision to lift the ban and the trustworthiness of American products as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick arrived in Japan late Saturday.

Zoellick met several officials for talks involving the beef issue, said Jeffrey Hill, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

He declined to provide details of the meetings, saying they were strictly informal.

Consumers said they were worried.

"They promised they would check things, but this is what happened," said Takayoshi Sakamoto, 34, who works for a personnel management firm. "I can tell you that even when U.S. beef is back on the shelves again, I won't really want to buy it."

Fast-food chain Yoshinoya said it was postponing an eagerly awaited resumption of sales of its signature gyudon -- marinated, stewed beef on rice -- planned for mid-February.

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