Ruling party panel endorses government decision on U.S. beef safety standards
TOKYO, Feb 16, 2005 (AP WorldStream via COMTEX) -- Japan's ruling party on Wednesday endorsed U.S.-proposed measures to verify that its beef exports are not contaminated by mad cow disease.
Wednesday's move by a Liberal Democratic Party panel helps move Tokyo a step closer to easing its 14-month-old import ban on American beef, which has kept U.S. beef producers locked out of what had been a US$1.7 billion market.
Last week, a panel of experts from the health and agriculture ministries accepted that a U.S.-proposed beef grading method could accurately identify and separate cattle unlikely to have brain-wasting bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE - better known as mad cow disease.
The LDP panel accepted that conclusion Wednesday, a party spokesman said on condition of anonymity.
However, it agreed to let the final decision lie with the government's Food Safety Commission, she said.
Support for the latest U.S. proposals is expected to clear the way for a partial end to the import ban that would allow shipments of U.S. grade A40 beef - which comes primarily from cattle 12 to 17 months old - back into the Japanese market.
Japan banned U.S. beef imports in December 2003 after the United States discovered its first case of mad cow disease.
Japan tentatively agreed late last year to resume importing beef products from U.S. cows younger than 21 months after experts found that such animals presented little risk of BSE infection.
The two sides had long argued over how to authenticate the age of cattle, but the latest meat grading system proposed by U.S. officials addresses that issue.
Eating beef from a diseased cow is thought to cause the fatal human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.