USDA Reports To Japan On Illegal Veal Shipment

Early this morning, USDA Ag Secretary Mike Johanns said his agency submitted to Japan its reports on the Jan. 20 veal shipment from a New York exporter that contained spinal column. The two reports -- one from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the other from the Office of Inspector General (OIE) -- explain the circumstances surrounding the shipments and detail additional safeguards the U.S. has determined to implement. Johanns says the reports list 11 findings -- five from FSIS and six from OIE. Both reports, though done independently, mirror each other very closely.

"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," Johanns said. "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."

Johanns said this was the one and only shipment of veal to Japan. There were two plants that were certified to ship veal; Atlantic Veal and Lamb took the order from a Japanese company on Dec. 27, 2005. They were certified for export on Jan. 6, 2006, as was their supplier, Golden Veal. The exported product contained vertebral column, which is considered a specified risk material, and offal product, which is eligible.

But, Johanns said, the amount of offal included was more than what could have come from the 21 animals harvested after export certification. He adds that both the personnel at both plants and the USDA inspector should have known they couldn't ship the products, since they had both been audited before the certification had been approved.

"It was an interesting thing. When you study the documentation, the product was clearly labeled," Johanns said. "This wasn't a situation where someone was trying to get something through by not labeling it. It indicates there wasn't an understanding and they weren't connecting on what couldn't be shipped."

The two plants have now been delisted, and Johanns said he is preparing to begin negotiations with Japan to reopen the border to beef exports.

The response, Johanns said, will be to require all USDA inspectors to undergo additional mandatory training. Plants will also have to maintain a list of products they are certified to ship to any country, instead of a blanket export certification. 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. In addition, exports will require a second signature from a USDA inspector before being shipped.

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