Beef import controls to be eased next month

Kyodo

Japan will ease beef import restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of mad cow disease effective Feb. 1, health minister Norihisa Tamura said Tuesday.

The government will allow meat from cattle aged up to 30 months raised in the United States and Canada to be imported, rather than the current 20 months, officials said.

The same age limit will be applied on beef imported from France, which has been under a total ban, the officials said.

Beef from cattle raised in the Netherlands is currently also subject to a total ban. Japan has been in talks with the Dutch government to set the age restriction at up to 12 months, they said.

The plan comes after the Cabinet Office’s Food Safety Commission reported last year that there would be no significant impact on human health from such a relaxation.

Raising the upper age limit to 30 months is expected to allow more than 90 percent of U.S. beef to meet the new criteria.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, beef meeting the relaxed criteria is expected to start arriving in Japan around late February to early March.

Japan banned imports of U.S. and Canadian beef in 2003 following an outbreak of mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. While it lifted the blanket ban in December 2005, it has imposed conditions, including the age limit of 20 months or younger.

Upon consultation by the ministry, the commission said in October that the impact on human health of such a relaxation would be “negligible.”

Based on the commission’s report, government officials held discussions with their counterparts in the United States, Canada, France and the Netherlands on related matters such as their classification systems for confirming the age of cattle.