Food Safety Officials Discuss Beef at Embassy Press Conference

US Embassy - Tokyo, Japan
January 24, 2006

  • J.B. Penn, USDA Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services
  • Charles Lambert, USDA Acting Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs
  • Curt J. Mann, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety

MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. We are on the record this evening with Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services and his colleagues. Let me remind you that when you want to ask a question, please come to the microphones in front of the room. Please give your name and the name of your organization so that our interpreters in the booth can interpret. Let me now turn it over to Dr. Penn, who will make a short statement and then we will take your questions:

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Thank you. First let me say thanks to all of you for coming this evening. We appreciate it and sorry that we're running a little bit late. I have with me today Dr. Charles Lambert, on my left. Dr. Lambert is the Acting Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs in the Department of Agriculture and he's also the Deputy Under Secretary in that area as well. And on my right is Dr. Curt Mann. Dr. Mann is the Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety in the Department of Agriculture.

I think, as you know, we are a delegation that was sent here by Secretary Johanns - he dispatched us over the weekend to come and I think our quick arrival here after this incident of non-compliance with the export verification program emphasizes the seriousness with which the Secretary and USDA view this issue. We are of course very cognizant of Japanese consumer concerns - they are very important to us. Japan is a major market for food and agricultural products from the United States and it was at one time the number one market for our beef and beef products. So, we take this matter very seriously and want to move to resolve it very quickly.

We have spent the day today in constructive meetings with several Japanese government officials and legislators. We had several purposes in making this trip - several objectives. The first objective that we had was to present our sincerest apology to the Japanese consumers and to our customers for this non-compliance with the export verification program. We are very regretful that this incident occurred. Another objective that we had was to provide a full explanation of the incident - what occurred, how it occurred - and we have provided all of the information that we have to this point in time to our colleagues in the Japanese government.

We also wanted an opportunity to explain first hand the quick and decisive actions that have been taken by Secretary Johanns and the Department since we first learned of this incident early last Friday morning. We wanted to provide information about those actions that serve to reinforce and provide further robustness to the export verification program and to our overall food safety system. And another objective that we had in coming here, very quickly, was to listen to our Japanese colleagues, to listen to Japanese consumers, to gain information for our use in our own reflections on how best to regain the confidence of the consuming public in the export verification program.

And, finally, we need to begin the process to find a way forward to restore confidence in the program and begin a return to more normal trading relations.

Again, we are very regretful this incident occurred. We are going to be working very hard to restore trust; we are going to be working very closely with our Japanese colleagues; with consumer organizations; with others to try to rebuild confidence and convince people that our product is safe.

So I think with that I will stop and we will try to respond to any questions that you might have.

QUESTION: John Brinsley, Bloomberg News. The Japanese have essentially said that the ball is in your court. What assurances, if any, did you receive from the Japanese officials you met with that they are open to resuming the import of US beef or is the attitude right now is that they are not going to resume importing for the foreseeable future?

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Well, the attitude that we have seen displayed today has been very constructive. I believe that we both recognize that we have a very strong, broad, comprehensive bilateral relationship and that our trade in food and agricultural products and that our trade in beef constitutes one aspect of that bilateral relationship. I do think that the ball is in our court now, as we say. We need to complete the investigation into the incident. We need to provide the information that we develop from that investigation and then let that guide us as to any additional actions that might be necessary for us to take to begin to restore confidence and get trade resumed.

QUESTION: Nobuhiko Harada from Yomiuri newspaper. I'd like to ask, when you say that you have some additional actions, you'll take some additional actions from now on, in future, additional actions to improve the exporting system. Do you have some concrete plan to develop your program, such as education of the inspectors or something like that?

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Well, thank you. That's a very good question and I meant to cover that in my statement, but I omitted that. Immediately upon learning of this incident on Friday morning about 7:00 am Washington time, Secretary Johanns and the senior staff developed what information we knew and quickly looked at what actions needed to be taken and there were a series of directives that the secretary issued within just a few hours of learning of the incident. Let me just give you a quick list of those actions and then we would be happy to respond to any questions about those that - for additional information - that you might wish.

The first action was that the Secretary ordered that the two plants in question - a processing plant in Ohio and a fabrication plant in Brooklyn, New York - be immediately de-listed until we got more information about the incident.

Secondly, the Secretary directed that a second signature by an FSIS inspector be required on the export verification certifications. This gives a second set of eyes; it just doubles the confidence that the product is as it's described and that it is as eligible for the particular market for which it's intended. Also, the secretary directed that there be unannounced USDA reviews of plants that are part of the export verification program. And then there were a series of calls and meetings involving the FSIS personnel field managers, inspectors, to again review the responsibilities of the inspectors and the requirements, and as you know we operate several of these export verification programs so the requirements for different countries are different. And the idea was to again reemphasis to everyone what the responsibilities are. This involved a series of phone calls, a series of meetings, and it involves further training.

AMS is going to review all of the export verification programs in each individual plant. The secretary also directed that no certifications for additional or new export verification programs be made until all of the procedures are reviewed and we know more about this particular incident.

The plants in question are being investigated. An investigation was launched immediately Friday morning upon learning about this - that's a joint investigation by an appropriate office within the Food Safety and Inspection Service and also by the Office of the Inspector General in the Department. And we have offered to our Japanese counterparts to provide technical experts to discuss inspection procedures, to review the product that's in the pipeline and to have consultations as to the disposition of that. And finally, there was to be or is to be, I get a little confused about the time difference here, a meeting in Washington today. The secretary invited all CEOs that are participating in the export verification program for Japan and all of the other 24 countries for which we have such programs. The chief executive officer and the appropriate technical people from the company are to be at this must-attend meeting in Washington today. The secretary of course wants to use that to emphasize once again that certainly not only does FSIS and the inspectors and USDA and AMS have responsibilities in these programs, but that the companies also have responsibilities, and so there is to be a discussion of what those responsibilities are - again just a reemphasis that we all have a lot at stake in these programs.

So those are some of the actions that have already been taken and, as I said, the investigation is continuing and from that we'll see if there's anything more that suggests itself as needing to be done.

QUESTION: Ebihara from NHK Broadcast Corporation. Now we understand that you have two stages running in New York and another in Ohio, but why you have got this kind of situation even if you have inspectors in each plant, for the Japanese market? Please, could you explain a bit more, please?

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Okay, I'm going to ask my colleague Dr. Lambert to explain the role of the two plants in this matter.

ACTING UNDER SECRETARY LAMBERT: Thank you, the plant in Ohio was the slaughter plant, if you will, that produced veal carcasses. It was a relatively small plant and was part of the export verification program for Japan, so the slaughter plant was producing carcasses that then went to the Brooklyn plant for fabrication. Both plants had been through the EV training and auditing program. Their senior management and their production management had been through the export verification requirements, and those had been reviewed, and they had responded to questions and understood the process. One of the things we will be looking at in this investigation is where the breakdown of communication might have occurred. The actual product in question was shipped from the fabrication plant in New York. It is a product that by definition includes vertebral column or backbone in that cut, along with rib bones. It's a hotel rack veal cut that was shipped. So both of those plants had been through the process. They were listed on Jan. 6 as being eligible to ship to Japan. And then the product in question was fabricated and shipped, I think, on the 18th of January.

QUESTION: Jinbo with the Video News Network. Setting the additional measures aside, the U.S. beef is actually already in Japan, and it's being sold in Japan about a month or so, so I think there is an issue of whether this was just an isolated incident or the tip of the iceberg. And how can you assure the Japanese consumers that this is an isolated incident, and if that's not the case, what are you going to do about the US beef which has been consumed in the past month or so? Has there been any plan or talk about the possible compensations for the consumers who may have eaten possibly BSE-contaminated US beef? Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Thank you for question. We believe that this was an isolated incident. We believe that this was a case of a company and an inspector being only marginally involved in international commerce. This was the first shipment by this plant to Japan. This plant had made, I believe, only four shipments before in 2002 to Japan, so I believe it's a case of an organization having very little experience in international trade, and consequently the inspectors in the plant, perhaps not being as fully aware of the requirements of the expert verification program as they should have been.

Now in sharp contrast to that, we have 38 other facilities that are participating in the export verification program. Most of these are involved in international commerce all time. Certainly all of the plant management and people involved in exporting are very much aware of what the requirements are, what the requirements are for the different markets. Of course, the inspectors in those plants have full familiarity and we have, we believe, a very robust system. We believe that we have, like Japan, one of the safest food systems in the world. We have a very efficient food system, and we believe that these systems, these marketing programs, export verification programs, are very robust, and we believe that our consumers all around the world can be assured that they are getting products that conform to the specifications of their program.

QUESTION: [inaudible] Reuters. One of your objectives is to listen to the Japanese consumers. And most of them are against the import of US beef in recent polls, so what did you find in this visit from Japanese consumers? Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Well, thank you for the question. I think that we have been impressed, in our discussions and with our review of the media here, with the attention which this incident has been receiving. Also, we have been impressed with the intensity of the feeling by the consuming public about this. But we have learned quite a lot, and again, I think that the consuming public wants to be reassured that they are receiving the kind of products that they expect to receive, that they want to purchase. And I think that we have a long track record in this country of providing a high-quality, reasonably priced product, and I believe that when the Japanese public fully understands the nature of the export verification program and the nature of the US beef system in general, that their confidence will be restored. I think the past illustrates that when given a choice, Japanese consumers are partial to US beef, and I believe that will be the case again in the future.

QUESTION: Miho Yoshikawa with Reuters. It sounds from what you've told us so far that there's still work that needs to be done, and I'm assuming that no time frame was discussed in today's discussion with Japanese officials about reopening the Japanese market again to US beef. Is this the case, or did you in fact discuss trying to open the market by a certain timeline?

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: No, our discussions today were more exploratory. Our discussions today concerned a way forward, what might need to be done. There's still a lot of information that we don't have. As I said, our investigations are still under way. We're still gathering information. We're still trying to ascertain the facts in some cases. Once we have that information - and we hope to have that in a relatively short period of time - then that will suggest any additional measures that we might need to take. That will then suggest the kinds of information that we will need to provide to the Japanese consuming public to indicate that we have taken measures that will try to assure that an incident like this could never happen again. So it's a little premature to talk about time frames, but we do want to move as expeditiously as we possibly can.

QUESTION: [inaudible]

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: No, I said it's premature to begin talking about dates.

QUESTION: Good evening, my name is Takagi from Mainichi Shimbun. Good evening. Let me ask a question in Japanese. Now on this incident, I believe that you have come to Japan to provide explanation, and that is the purpose of your visit, is what you have explained. So let me ask this question. Now, the development of the incident itself - at least four people are involved, as I know it: the operator in the Ohio plant and the inspector in the Ohio plant, and also the employee in the New York plant, and also the FSIS inspector in the New York plant. At least four people must have been involved. I'm sure you have interviewed all of them. What were their responses? And what I would like to know is: did these people know and understand that the spinal column had to be removed? Did all four of these people know of this fact, or did they not know if this fact - or even if they did know of this fact, had they actually forgotten about this? Which is true?

DEPUTY UNDER SECRETARY MANN: [inaudible] answer that. Your assessment of the number of people is pretty accurate, as far as we can tell, but the important fact that I need to share with you is that the investigation is ongoing. The Secretary of Agriculture immediately - as my colleague Dr. Penn pointed out earlier - engaged the Inspector General's office of the Department of Agriculture, which is an internal audit police force, if you will, but an auditing function within the Department of Agriculture, and then also there is an Office of Program Evaluation, Enforcement and Review within the Food Safety Inspection Service, and that is also an internal review audit function within the Food Safety Inspection Service. Both of those points of view and inspectors were dispatched to investigate this. We don't have the full details of all the interviews and all the paper, but I can share with you that they will go through all the records. They will go through and take sworn statements from all the people who may or may - employees, government employees as well as industry employees - that may or may not have been involved, to try and get the entire picture here. In US law at this point, in this process of investigation - we can't discuss the details of that - but the Secretary has made it very clear that he expects this done very quickly and promptly, and the other important thing that he has relayed through us to your government of Japan is that when we get this information final, it will be shared with the government of Japan immediately.

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: There is one additional point that I would like to make relative to all of these questions. I know we're dealing with perceptions, and we're dealing with perceptions by the consuming public, but we do want to emphasize that this is not a food safety issue. This is not a question of having shipped a product that might be harmful to the consumer. This was a product from a four-and-a-half-month-old animal. It's a product that is widely accepted in many other parts of the world, and it's widely consumed in the United States. The portion of the backbone that is in question is not considered a specified risk material by the international standard-setting body, or by the US. So this is not a case of shipping a product that was unsafe. Rather, it was a case of shipping a product that was not approved to be shipped to this market. And again, we're sincerely regretful that that occurred, but that's the distinction that I think it's important to keep in mind.

QUESTION: I know it's too premature for you to respond to my question, but let me make a confirmation, then. Dr. Penn, you have mentioned that this incident is an isolated incident. However, the investigation is going on. You do not know why this incident had occurred, so why can you say right now that this incident may be isolated? Why can you make such a definitive statement at this time?

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Well, there is no evidence to the contrary. Most of these products are inspected in the United States when they are shipped to the destination country, and they are re-examined in the destination country. In this case, the product was re-examined here, and it was found to be not in conformance with the export verification program. But we have had no reports of other product going to other locations that is not in conformance, and again, as I explained, I think we were dealing with people who had relatively little experience in international commerce. I think that leads us to believe that this was very much an isolated incident.

QUESTION: Again, John Brinsley from Bloomberg. In regard to perception and your comment on how the media has dealt with the issue so far: Yesterday, as you may or may not be aware of, the 22nd case of mad cow was found in Japan in Hokkaido. In light of this and the perception regarding the shipment, could you comment on how that is being perceived?

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Well, that's a very good question, and thank you for that. The first case of BSE was in the late 1980s in Europe, and then in Japan on September 10, 2001, the first BSE case was discovered here. In the course of this relatively short period of time, we've learned a lot about this disease. We've learned very much about BSE. In particular, we know how the disease is transmitted from animal to animal and how to prevent that. We know how the disease is transmitted from animals to humans and how to prevent that. This involves the construction of two firewalls: One firewall to prevent spread of the disease in the animal herd involves not feeding meat-and-bone meal to ruminants, and in the United States we've had a ruminant-to-ruminant feeding ban in place since August of 1997, and so after some period of time, this disease will be completely eradicated from the livestock herd. And we're on the downside of that cycle.

With respect to protecting human health, that firewall involves the removal of specified risk materials from the food supply. And we do that. And as long as the specified risk materials are removed from these animals, then there is minimal risk to humans. So despite the fact that an additional BSE case was found in Japan, and an additional BSE case has been found in Canada - if the appropriate measures are taken, then the international standard-setting body, the OIE, indicates that meat and other products from these animals can be safely consumed. And so our system, and the Japanese system, are very much in conformance with the OIE standards.

We should also keep some perspective. Since this disease was discovered in the late '80s, only 150 or so people have contracted the human variant of this disease and died. That's 153 people, I believe, is the exact number. And so we should keep perspective, because our efforts and resources are likely needed much more somewhere else, and I'm reminded of avian influenza and all of the ramifications of that disease. So we do need to be mindful of what it is that we're dealing with here.

QUESTION: I'm Takashi Koyama, freelance. Is it true that you have an understanding with Japan that in this kind of a case, you are supposed to ban the product of the company that caused the trouble, and that the rest of the products can be imported? Is this true, and if so, why is it that they banned all the products?

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Well, let me start with a quick explanation, and Dr. Lambert will elaborate. These export verification programs are offered to companies who want to meet all of the requirements. And the role of the US government in these programs is to look at the performance of the company and to say, "You're meeting the requirements" or "You're not," and if you're not, then you're not eligible to participate in the program. So obviously, this one company that was exporting product exported a product that was not allowable into the Japanese market. So it's clearly not performing as it said it would, and so that company is no longer eligible to participate in the program. So it can't export product to Japan.

ACTING UNDER SECRETARY LAMBERT: And in this case, I think, given that we're now just a little more than a month into the process - and you're right, normally a finding of non-conformance like this would be suspension of the plant, or that product would be turned back and we would look into the conditions in the plant. But given the newness of the system, of the program in Japan, and given the consumer concerns, I think it was deemed prudent on both sides that we take a breather, that we do a full examination of the process, of the system, and make sure that we had all of the answers before we moved forward. And as J.B. said, we did suspend in the US. We suspended auditing and certification for plants for export verification programs for any market until we get these answers and we make sure that we have all of those conditions in place.

QUESTION: Deborah Cameron from the Sydney Morning Herald and the IH newspapers in Australia. In the US campaign to have beef exports resumed here, almost every US visitor from Condoleezza Rice on down was called into the case. Do you now regret not concentrating more on the science and inspection guarantees as Japan wanted you to?

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: I think that's a good question - I think the premise of the question - and that is that we have a lot of new trade agreements now. We have the Uruguay round multilateral agreement under the WTO. This is a relatively new agreement, including food and agricultural products. It's only been in existence since the mid-1990s. And we also now have a lot of bilateral trade agreements that are springing up all around the world, and we are negotiating the Doha Development Agenda, which would further expand liberalization of trade in food and agricultural products. So now having said that, we're finding more and more as we lower the economic barriers to trade, as we bring down the tariffs and as we expand the quotas, we're finding that other matters then become relatively more important as trade barriers; and often, we're seeing that these involve plant and animal diseases, sanitary and phytosanitary standards. So then, we have to decide how we are going to handle these in the context of international trade, and more and more we see that we have to rely on science-based regulatory systems. And increasingly, international standard-setting bodies are being put in the spotlight. In the case of beef, in the case of animal products, it's the World Animal Health Organization, the OIE. For plant products, it's the International Plant Protection Convention. For processed food products, it's Codex Alimentarius. And we have in times past had specific programs for specific countries, and we begin to get a patchwork quilt of trading regimes in place around the world, and that is very inefficient, and it's very hard to maintain that when we get so many of these bilateral free-trade agreements. So the point is - from all of this long discourse - is that we're going to have to have more science-based systems, and we're all going to have to agree on what constitutes a science-based system, and that's going to make the role of these international standard-setting bodies all the more important.

QUESTION (Joe Coleman, AP): Before this latest incident, we've been hearing from the States that there would be some emphasis on getting the age of the cows permissible from 20 to 30 months. How has this latest thing impacted those efforts?

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: I think it's made that sort of a moot question for the moment. But this goes very much to the last question and my rather long-winded answer. Again, we're going to have to depend upon science-based regulatory systems, and we're going to have to depend upon these international standard-setting bodies as developing norms that can be followed by all and that can be included in the structure of these international trade agreements.

QUESTION: Tetsuo Jinbo from Video News. Just a follow-up question on the previous one, on the 20-month benchmark. Since you are negotiating to lower the benchmark to 30 months before this incident surfaced, and now that you'll be negotiating with the Japanese government once again over reopening the Japanese beef market, so what is your next step or new goal? Are you happy with just going back to the existing framework of 20-month benchmark and A-40 and so forth, or will this new age benchmark be the issue in the new negotiating table to Japanese government? That was a follow-up question.

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Our goal, of course, is to have all of our trading arrangements based upon sound science. That's our goal, and that's going to be the goal that we pursue in all of our arrangements with all of our trading partners. Now the OIE, of course, is constantly revising the standards as new scientific information becomes available. We full well anticipate that there will be additional revisions as soon as this May in the chapter of the OIE regulations that governs BSE. But I would say also in this regard that the Japanese side has the same objective that we do, and that is to have our trading arrangements based on sound science. In our October 2004 arrangement, it was noted that the 20-month-and-under arrangement was to be an interim arrangement while we learned more about the disease, and that at a point in the future we were going to review this trading arrangement and involve experts from the OIE, the World Health Organization, and other bodies. So I think that both sides have that same intention, and that is to ultimately move our trading arrangements to be those that conform to the internationally accepted guidelines.

QUESTION: Can I just take that as a "yes" to the question that the new age benchmark is an issue on the negotiating table with the Japanese government?

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: As I said, the OIE is going to make more modifications to the chapter on BSE in May of this year, and I think if you look at the guidelines as they exist today, there is no specific age delineation; and I think it says that for certain products that beef can be traded and safely consumed from animals of any age. So my point is that as we learn more, as we have more scientific information become available to us, then the standards will be gradually changing. But it's our intention, and I believe it's the intention of the Japanese that the trading arrangements be based on the current internationally accepted guidelines.

QUESTION: Masaru Yamada from Nihon Nogyo Shimbun. Can I speak in Japanese? I am from a trade journal. Last week, Secretary Johanns talked about enhanced surveillance program, which he would like to see reviewed. Now that an incident has occurred, do you think there is going to be a change in the mind of Secretary Johanns for this enhanced surveillance program?

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Well, as you know, we implemented in an enhanced surveillance program based upon the recommendation of an international review team that did an examination of the situation with respect to the United States after we discovered the first of our two cases of BSE in December of 2003. We now have been conducting that enhanced surveillance system for about a year and a half since June of 2004, I believe, and we have now tested something approaching 600,000 animals. And we have been testing the so-called high-risk of population. We have been testing animals in the categories where you would expect to find BSE if it existed in the livestock herd. At some point in the not-too-distant future, we will again conform to the OIE guidelines, which specify the amount of testing, the kind of maintenance testing, that you need to do to determine the incidence and extent of BSE in the livestock herd. But from the results that we've achieved thus far, testing almost 600,000 high-risk animals and having found only two - and only one indigenous animal, I think that it's pretty safe to conclude that we don't have a very high prevalence of BSE in our livestock herd. So it would only make sense that we would scale back at some point in the not-too-distant future and do a smaller testing regime.

QUESTION: My name is Miyazaki from Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. Allow me to ask a question in Japanese. Dr. Penn, you earlier stated that this plant itself had minimal experience in international commerce. But for the other facilities, they are quite familiar with international export programs. Now, for this particular plant involved in this incident, why was this facility able to be certified? Wasn't there any problem to do with the procedure itself? Now in your preventive measures, as to the procedure itself for certifying the plants, do you contemplate making it more stringent or sort of strengthening the procedure itself?

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: Thank you. I'm going to ask my colleague Dr. Lambert to respond to that question, because we have an agreement: I get to answer the easy ones, and he answers all the hard ones. But the Agricultural Marketing Service is in his area of responsibility, so I'll ask him to respond.

ACTING UNDER SECRETARY LAMBERT: As I indicated in one of my earlier answers, AMS had audited and certified this plant consistent with our processes, and I might just spend a minute or two explaining that process. A company who wants to participate in a market to a country that has an EV program first has to make application and express interest to the Department. We then send them the guidelines and the specifications that have to be met to ship to that product for that country. And then the company itself develops a program that says how they will implement the internal controls to ensure that they meet those criteria. Once that program is developed, it comes to USDA, and we do a desk audit. First, we review their plan, their paper plan, and if there are deficiencies or ways that that plant needs to be improved. Then, we send it back and tell them where the deficiencies are, and they work on it until they have a plan that we feel will enable them to meet those criteria. Once that plan is in place, then the plant itself has to put it into operation. And after it's in operation, then AMS will audit the plant. We ask the production managers and the people in production and quality-control people questions about the requirements and the internal programs that they have to meet those requirements. So it is an extensive process, and that process was followed and completed with both the slaughter plant and the fabrication plant in this case that has since been delisted. So as I said, in the investigation one of the things that we need to find out is where the system broke down. It's apparent that in the questioning and the audit that the production management and the program managers knew the answers to the questions. Was that information not relayed to shipping or to international sales? Where was the breakdown in communication between the front-line people, and what happened to allow those three boxes of products to be shipped to this market? So yes, in a short answer, the investigation will tell us if there are controls, if there are additional communications that we need to specify that need to take place between the front office and the back office, or just where that system needs to be corrected. And as Curt and J. B. both said, the investigation will then lead us to the answers or to additional measures that may need to be implemented to strengthen the program.

QUESTION: Ebihara from NHK. [inaudible] Can we understand that this incident has happened during the process which is exporting to Japan or not? That means a whole process, you know in Ohio or in the same thing, even for Japan or domestic use to take, you know, this part of the meat?

ACTING UNDER SECRETARY LAMBERT: The domestic market, as was indicated, we have requirements that Dr. Mann of Food Safety Inspection Service do put into place. But as we work to gain access into these other markets, into the export markets, we often agree to additional requirements. And as Dr. Penn said, in the US market, the vertebral columns from animals six months and younger, which we're talking about here, are not required to be removed. They are not defined as specified risk materials. But we did agree with Japan that for this market we would remove those tissues. In this case it did not happen, and for that, we are sincerely apologetic. But now the challenge is - we've delisted the plant, so that error will not be happening in that plant again - but the challenge is now to learn from that incident and see what, if anything, we need to do to modify the system with respect to preventing that type of an error from happening again.

QUESTION: Thank you. May I ask a question in Japanese? My name is Kitamoto from TV-Asahi. I have a question to Dr. Penn. Ultimately it will be the Japanese housewives will be buying US beef. In case of Japan, people thought that there was no BSE whatsoever in the United States. At this time, a very solid program was built. But then, all of a sudden, the Japanese housewives have come to know that when you have opened the box, there was actually a skeleton in the box. So to the safety, there now have been twice doubts. So this is very, very serious situation. Now Dr. Penn, how would you respond to the Japanese housewives? How would you explain to the Japanese housewives about the safety of the US beef and US beef products?

UNDER SECRETARY PENN: I would first start, I think, by putting in context the situation that we see today. I believe it was announced yesterday, or maybe even today, that Japan has found another case of BSE, and I think that would be the 22nd undisputed case. By contrast, in the United States, we have found two cases. One of those was of a Canadian-born animal. In Canada, there have been a half-dozen or so cases. So first of all I think we should just keep in perspective what is happening. And secondly, I would again explain the science. As I said before, a few cases of BSE in a livestock herd can be safely handled. The risk can be minimized to consumers. The risk of transmission of the disease in the livestock herd can be minimized with feed bans. And again, the perspective that this is a disease that, when properly managed, afflicts very few humans. As I said, no more than about 150 people have ever contracted the human variant of this disease and died. If you look at all of the other possibilities of having something bad happen to you, the probabilities are much higher. In fact, probably, getting out of your automobile and walking into the store to buy beef has a higher probability that you will be hit by an automobile than it does from the probability of any harm coming to you from eating the beef. So again, I think we have to keep all of this in context. I would note that there are 285 million Americans who are consuming large per capita amounts of beef, and there are no reported problems to any of that population. So I do think that we have to again keep some perspective; we have to rely on science. And I think that once the information is known, that consumers, whether they be in America or whether they be in Japan, will make the appropriate decisions. So with that, I think that was the last question, and on behalf of myself and my colleagues, let me say thanks to all of you for being so patient and listening to us. Thank you very much.