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WASHINGTON (Kyodo) U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman urged Japan on Wednesday to reopen its market to U.S. beef in response to enhanced U.S. surveillance for mad cow disease.

“We are hopeful that this will create some interest on the part of some of our trading partners to look at reopening markets,” she said of the new U.S. testing program for mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

“We will continue to pursue this market very aggressively because it is our No. 1 market,” Veneman said of Japan.

The United States found its first case of BSE last December in a Canadian-born cow in Washington state, prompting almost all U.S. trading partners, including Japan, to ban U.S. beef imports. Japan is the world’s largest buyer of U.S. beef in value terms.

The U.S. Agriculture Department said Monday it will launch an enhanced BSE surveillance program for 12 to 18 months beginning June 1, testing as many cattle in the high-risk population as possible.

The newly announced surveillance, however, fell short of Japan’s demand that the U.S. test all slaughtered cattle for BSE, or provide an equivalent assurance of safety, before Tokyo would resume U.S. beef imports.

Veneman rejected Japan’s demand that all cattle be tested, saying it is not a science-based approach.

She said the U.S. has been discussing the new plan with Japan and indicated that some Japanese officials are supportive of the idea of resuming U.S. beef imports.

Condition mulled Japan will probably remove its import ban on U.S. beef if U.S. exporters test all export cattle for mad cow disease in cooperation with the U.S. government, a senior farm ministry official said Thursday.

“We will welcome private-sector testing with the U.S. government’s firm involvement,” said Mamoru Ishihara, vice minister for agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

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