2,000 tons of U.S. beef to pile up in customs in Japan's latest import ban

More than 2,000 tons of unwanted U.S. beef is piling up at Japanese customs warehouses after this month's renewed import ban and much of it is likely to be burned by importers at their own expense, a newspaper said Tuesday. Tokyo eased its ban on U.S. beef imports on Dec. 12, but halted imports again this month after a beef shipment arrived in Japan with banned spinal bones in it. Japan considers such bones to be at risk for mad cow disease.

Some 1,380 tons of beef products imported from the United States in containers have been held up at Japanese ports since Jan. 20, when Tokyo halted the imports for the second time. By adding those currently in shipment, the amount of stranded beef products could reach as much as 2,300 tons, the Yomiuri newspaper said, citing an industrial estimate by Japan Meat Traders Association.

The cost for the importers would be as much as 2 billion yen (US$17 million; euro14 million), the Yomiuri said. Most of the intended U.S. beef imports were high quality frozen products, with the consumption date expiring within two months, the paper said.

Industry officials were not immediately available for comment. According to Japanese customs inspector Koichi Tsunokami, goods subject to import suspension are usually returned to senders, sent to a third country or disposed of, because keeping unwanted goods only costs importers storage fees.

"The U.S. beef products cannot go through customs and there will be no quarantine for them," Tsunokami said. "They will have to be returned to senders, sent to a third country or disposed here."

When Japan banned American beef products in December 2003, most Japanese importers sent them back to exporters, he added. Many others burned them at their own expense. Tsunokami said he did not have the exact amount of the unwanted U.S. beef products currently in customs storage.

According to a poll released by the Asahi newspaper Tuesday, 62 percent of the Japanese said they don't want to eat American beef when it returns to Japanese stores, compared to 30 percent who said they would try it. The Asahi, which surveyed 1,915 adults through telephone interviews over the weekend, gave no margin of error, reports the AP. I.L.

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