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Japan will Re-evaluate US Testing and Beef Safety

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Today 6/25/2005 9:09:00 AM

BSE Update: Japan Food Safety Experts Worried Over New US Mad Cow Case

TOKYO (AP)--Experts on Japan's food safety panel expressed concerns Saturday about the confirmation of America's second animal infected with mad cow disease, saying that the case forces them to scrutinize safety standards and extent of possible infection among U.S. cows more thoroughly before deciding whether Japan should resume U.S. beef imports.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday said it had confirmed mad cow disease in an animal apparently born in the United States.

When the case was pending last week, Japanese officials had said the case was unlikely a setback for Tokyo's negotiations with Washington aimed at restarting stalled imports of American beef.

But Kiyotoshi Kaneko, a Food Safety Commission panel member, said Saturday that the confirmation raises the need for panel experts to examine the accuracy of mad cow tests and the extent of possible infection in the United States more carefully and thoroughly, hinting a possible delay in the panel's decision for a lifting of Japanese ban on U.S. beef imports.

"There is a big difference between a suspected case and the confirmation," Kaneko told a televised interview on public broadcaster NHK. "We have to examine the details very carefully and collect as much data as possible."

His panel is currently discussing safety risks involving a government proposal to resume imports of American beef products.

Agriculture Ministry officials said the latest results were largely expected.

Yet, the ministry plans to ask Washington to provide more details about the infected animal, including its origin and feed, NHK said.

Experts also questioned the accuracy of the U.S. test procedures. After U.S. tests produced conflicting results, the sample had to be tested at a laboratory in England for the final verdict.

Japanese consumer groups on Saturday renewed their demand that the government keep the ban in place.

Washington has intensified pressure on Tokyo to end a 17-month-old ban on American beef imports, with some U.S. officials threatening sanctions unless the ban ends.

Japan was America's most lucrative overseas beef market before the ban, imposed days after the United States discovered its first case of mad cow disease in December 2003.

Japan's Food Safety Commission approved last month a government proposal to waive mad cow disease tests for domestic cattle under 21 months old –considered less likely to be infected -a decision seen as a step toward allowing imports of beef from U.S. cattle the same age. No time frame is provided for a resumption.

Japan currently tests all its cattle for the disease before slaughter, and had earlier demanded the United States adopt a similar system to resume imports. Washington has rejected that demand, calling it a waste of resources

and unscientific.

Mad cow disease is also called bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE. Eating infected beef is thought to cause variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal brain disorder that has killed more than 150 people, mostly in Britain in the 1990s.

Source: Dow Jones

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