Japan imported 73 tons of mutton from Ireland between August and December last year despite a mad cow-related ban on imports, because an animal quarantine official mistakenly issued import certificates, the agriculture ministry said Friday.

All the meat has been sold but it should not pose any risk of infection to humans even if it is consumed, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said.

It said there has been no known case of a human contracting a BSE-related disease from mutton, although it is possible for cows eating mutton-based feed to be infected.

“The import ban is intended to prevent BSE infection in domestic animals, and (human) consumption of mutton itself does not pose any risk,” the ministry said.

The official of the Otaru branch of the animal quarantine office in Hokkaido will be punished, the ministry said.

The meat was imported through a port in Hokkaido in four shipments over the five months because the officer was not aware of the ban and issued import certificates.

Japan has banned EU meat since March 29, 2001.

The error was uncovered in the course of import record checks by officials from the health ministry, which included the meat on its own import-ban list in February.

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