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A Liberal Democratic Party panel approved a bill Thursday that would impose fines of up to 300,000 yen on beef producers who fail to comply with a proposed system to track beef from production to distribution.

The bill was endorsed during a meeting of the LDP’s agriculture, forestry and fisheries division. The agriculture ministry will submit the bill to the Diet in February, hoping it will come into force in fiscal 2003, officials said.

The envisaged tracking system is designed to alleviate consumer anxiety about domestic beef in the aftermath of the discovery of seven cows in Japan infected with mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, since September 2001.

The latest case was reported Jan. 23, involving a cow in Hokkaido.

According to the officials, the bill would oblige farmers to register with authorities identification numbers assigned to each of their cows.

Retailers meanwhile would be obliged to mark their beef products with the ID numbers, with the threat of a fine if they fail to comply.

Beef consumption witnessed a severe downturn in the wake of the first reported case of mad cow disease Sept. 10, 2001, when a Holstein was found infected at a farm in Chiba Prefecture.

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