Japan might ease beef-test demand

Japan might ease its demand for blanket testing of mad cow disease by excluding cattle aged 20 months and younger, paving the way for a resumption of U.S. beef imports, government sources said Friday.

A subpanel of the Cabinet Office’s Food Safety Commission has decided to compile an interim report at its meeting Monday that will point out that there would be no further risk to humans even if young cattle are not tested, the sources said.

They said the report will also state that it is scientifically difficult to detect accumulated abnormal prion protein in cattle of that age. A prion is a type of protein that indicates an infection. Prions accumulate in the brain and other parts of a cow as it ages.

If the Food Safety Commission endorses the report, it would be reflected in the policy of the farm ministry and the health ministry, adding momentum to talks over the resumption of U.S. beef imports, the sources said.

This is the first time the subpanel on bovine spongiform encephalopathy has specified the age, after judging that the public would support the policy shift because the youngest mad cow infection confirmed by Japan had been in a 21-month-old Holstein bull, according to the sources.

Japan, the top foreign buyer of U.S. beef, halted imports worth $1.4 billion a year after the United States discovered its first case of mad cow disease in late December.