BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- In response to the reports today that Atlantic Veal and Lamb shipped beef to Japan containing cattle backbone -- halting U.S. beef imports for now -- company president Philip Peerless has issued the following statement:

"We sincerely regret that we shipped product not approved for export to Japan. Our company shipped this product in response to an order by a Japanese customer.

"The product we shipped is safe and is widely consumed in the U.S. marketplace. Were this product shipped to San Francisco, there would be no question about its safety. But because we shipped it to Japan, and because it contained bones that are not accepted by the Japanese, we have now been prohibited from exporting to Japan.

"We are absolutely confident that the product is safe. However, we regret that there was a misinterpretation of the export requirements and an honest mistake involving a very small amount of product that has led to this degree of concern.

"It is important to note that Atlantic Veal produces veal derived from very young animals -- animals that have never tested positive for BSE. We estimate that the veal we shipped came from animals who were less than 4 1/2 months of age.

"We will cooperate fully with USDA to provide any information they require to ensure that our company is in fully compliance with all inspection regulations and that our export programs going forward operate in a way that is fully consistent with export requirements."

American Meat Institute speaks out on export issue

Also today, the American Meat Institute issued a statement emphasizing the safety of U.S. beef.

J. Patrick Boyle, president and CEO of the AMI, said the following:

"We deeply regret the incident that has prompted Japan to suspend all U.S. beef imports. We are confident in U.S. beef safety and are committed to providing any assurances needed to restore exports.

"It is our understanding that a small shipment of veal from calves that were under 6 months of age was shipped. The product was inspected and passed by USDA as safe, but contained bones prohibited by the Japanese. This product is consumed with confidence here in the U.S. It is important to note that BSE has never been detected in an animal this young.

"Despite this shipment, sent in error, the facts are indisputable: U.S. beef and veal remain among the safest in the world. Experts say that the U.S.' proactive, preventive BSE firewalls have made the level of BSE in the U.S. so low it can scarcely be quantified.

"We understand that USDA will revalidate all plant export programs in a committed effort to show Japan that we take our promise to them seriously. We will cooperate fully with USDA and look forward to restoration of beef trade with Japan.

"This incident points to the need for uniform, global export standards to prevent the sort of trade disruptions that this error has caused."

SOURCES: Atlantic Veal and Lamb via PR Newswire; American Meat Institute via PR Newswire.