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Japan May Ease Up on Beef Tests

Flexibility from the biggest importer of U.S. beef could hasten the lifting of its ban.

March 17, 2004|From Bloomberg News

Japan's willingness to consider an alternative to testing for mad cow disease all 35 million cattle the U.S. slaughters each year may help end the country's ban on U.S. beef imports, said U.S. Agriculture Undersecretary J.B. Penn.

Japan, the biggest importer of U.S. beef, said Monday it may accept something other than blanket testing if the U.S. can ensure the meat is safe.

On Monday, the U.S. said it would test as many as possible of an estimated 446,000 high-risk cattle, expanding a program that earlier examined 38,000.

The U.S. confirmed its first case of mad cow disease Dec. 23.

The more stringent measures "should fully reassure Japanese consumers of the safety of our beef," Penn said via e-mail. The U.S. appreciates the Japanese government's statement and hopes it indicates some new flexibility, he said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Japan is waiting for the U.S. to present beef-safety measures sufficient to protect Japanese consumers.

"If the U.S. is to take measures to ensure the safety of our people, we'll listen to them," he said at a regular news briefing.

Earlier U.S. steps aimed at restarting beef shipments to Japan valued at more than $1 billion a year included a ban on meat for human consumption from cattle unable to walk, and a halt to sales of intestines and heads from animals older than 30 months, which are believed to be the most probable carriers of the disease.

The import ban has forced Japanese food companies, including Yoshinoya D&C Co., the country's third-largest restaurant chain, to halt or curb sales of beef dishes because they can't obtain enough meat from suppliers in Australia and New Zealand.

Imports accounted for about 60% of Japan's beef consumption, with almost half the shipments coming from the U.S.

Scientists believe humans who eat certain parts of animals infected with mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, may contract variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a similar brain-wasting ailment that has been blamed for 139 human deaths in Britain since 1990.

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