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Oklahoma beef producers concerned over beef sale ban

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma beef producers were hopeful Friday that Japan's suspension of American beef imports will be short-lived and that government inspectors will quickly resolve the issues that led to it.

Japan announced the ban after its inspectors discovered a shipment of veal containing bone that Asian countries consider at risk for mad cow disease. Japan's beef-trading agreement with the U.S. calls for boneless beef.

``Obviously, that agreement was broken,'' said Heather Buckmaster, executive director of the Oklahoma Beef Industry Council. ``We take this very seriously.''

Beef industry officials in Oklahoma, the nation's fourth-largest beef producer, said Japan's action is more of a technical issue than a food safety issue.

``I think confusion reigns supreme right now. Everyone is trying to find out what's going on with the issue,'' said Scott Dewald, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association.

Dewald said cattlemen primarily blame U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors for allowed the shipment to be sent to Japan.

``USDA inspectors let this product get on this airplane and go,'' Dewald said. ``USDA already has gotten on top of this. They're going to have to do some training.''

Dewald said packers, purveyors, exporters and inspectors in the U.S. have to understand what Japan wants. Japan is the largest export market for American beef.

``USDA better get to work and find out where the problems were,'' he said.

In spite of Japan's action, Dewald said the shipment _ from veal calves younger than 6 months of age _ did not pose a health risk because mad cow disease has never been found in an animal that young.

``Their rules, in my opinion, are not scientifically sound,'' Dewald said.

The tissue Japan found, spinal column from veal, is allowed in the American food supply because it comes from animals younger than 30 months of age. However, the agreement with Japan bars spinal column and other bone tissue.

Just six weeks ago, Japan ended a ban on American beef imposed after the discovery of mad cow disease in the United States in December 2003.
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