The government overpaid farmers to the tune of some 2.3 billion yen via a beef buyback program introduced to deal with last year’s outbreak of mad cow disease, farm minister Tsutomu Takebe said Tuesday.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry will now ask the farmers to return the excess funds, he said.

“Inspection results show that 50 percent of the 7,000 boxes (of meat) did not qualify for subsidies,” Takebe said after a Cabinet meeting. “If we were to make a bold estimate, the (overpaid) amount would come to 2.3 billion yen.”

Takebe said the subsidies only apply to meat determined to have been frozen in the immediate wake of the discovery last fall of three cows carrying the brain-wasting illness. The subsidies were to cover beef processed up to the time the government launched a program to test meat for the disease.

A considerable amount of beef that the government bought back under the program, however, had been frozen prior to the outbreak.

The government introduced the program as a means of providing some economic support to farmers suffering amid a drastic decline in beef consumption.

It later conducted checks on the stocks of beef it had purchased in the wake of revelations that Snow Brand Foods Co. abused the buyback system by repackaging imported beef as domestic to claim subsidies fraudulently.

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