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Petition Circulates for Beef Import Startup

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Tommy

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TOKYO, Mar 30, 2005 (AP Online via COMTEX) -- More than a million people and restaurants have signed a petition urging the government to drop a ban on U.S. beef imports prompted by mad cow disease, organizers said Wednesday.

Nearly 1.2 million people nationwide signed the petition, which was submitted to the Agriculture Ministry on Tuesday to urge the early resumption of U.S. beef imports, campaign spokesman Yasuharu Tagaya said.

"We want U.S. beef back so we can enjoy dishes such as 'gyu-don' (beef and rice) and barbecued tongue," Tagaya said. "American beef tastes good, almost like homegrown beef."

U.S. beef is crucial for restaurants serving such cheap dishes, because they use cow parts that are unpopular in the United States and are inexpensive to import.

Japan banned U.S. beef imports in December 2003 after the discovery of America's first case of mad cow disease.

The issue has caused discord between the two countries, with some U.S. lawmakers threatening sanctions against Japan if the ban is prolonged.

Japan has insisted on keeping the ban unless the United States adopts Japan's practice of testing all cattle for human consumption - including young animals usually considered low-risk - for mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Japan has tested all cattle for the disease since discovering its first case in 2001. Sixteen infected cows have been found so far.

Last month, a Japanese government panel agreed to accept a U.S. proposal to exempt younger cows from testing. However, the Food Safety Commission, which makes the final decision, still has to review the matter - a process that could take several months.

Many Japanese restaurants that sell the cheap, extremely popular gyu-don beef bowls have run out of stock.

Low-cost eateries like Yoshinoya D&C Co., which relies heavily on U.S. suppliers, have been unable to find a satisfactory alternative.

"Most Americans are eating U.S.-grown beef with confidence about its safety - then why can't we?" said Tagaya, who is also a Yoshinoya official.

Consumer groups in Japan have demanded that the government keep U.S. beef banned to ensure safety.
 
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