BROOKLYN (CN) - Three veal-packing companies cost the U.S. meat industry $500 million by shipping meat contaminated with spinal matter to Japan, federal prosecutors say. The contaminated meat came after a 2-year closure of Japan to U.S. beef exporters, because of fear of mad cow disease, and just a month after Japan had reopened its market. Japan then closed its market to the U.S. for 6 more months.
Japan barred U.S. beef imports in December 2003, after a U.S. cow was discovered to have bovine spongiform encephalitis, or mad cow disease, which can be transmitted to humans by eating the brain or spinal matter of a disease animal.
Japan imported $1.4 billion of the $3.9 billion of U.S. beef exports in 2003, according to the complaint.
Japan lifted the ban in December 2005 after the U.S. Department of Agriculture agreed to strict Export Verification procedures. Exports had to be identified the type and quantity of meat and certified that the "Product Meets EV Program Requirements For Japan."
Days after Japan announced that trading would resume, defendants Atlantic Veal & Lamb and Golden Veal applied for certification, and on Dec. 27, a Japanese importer ordered veal from Atlantic Veal.
In early January 2006, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service audited Atlantic and Golden Veal, informed them of the regulations, and certified them as the "only approved U.S. exporter and supplier, respectively, eligible to supply veal and veal products to Japan," according to the complaint.
But Atlantic Veal failed to remove vertebral columns from some of Golden Veal's meat, then sent three boxes of mislabeled meat to Japan on Jan. 18, 2006.
As a result, "Japan immediately closed its borders to all beef and beef products imported from the United States, eliminating the market for wholesome, unadulterated and properly labeled and packaged beef and beef products from America," the complaint states.
The USDA found that the companies also had commingled sweetbreads and tongues with the shipment in violation of Japan's requirements and protocols.
Japan did not reopen its beef market until July 2006.
This second ban caused the U.S. meat industry "at least $500 million in losses," the complaint states.
(Ohio Farms Packing Co. is named as the third defendant, as it told the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service in 2008 that it slaughters, fabricates and ships veal products for Atlantic Veal, according to the complaint.)
The United States seeks a restraining order and injunction, costs and unspecified "other and further relief."
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