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Japan and the United States began two days of high-level talks in Tokyo on Thursday in which the two countries are expected to confirm their goal of lifting Japan’s import ban on American beef by next spring.

On the first day of the senior officials’ meeting, the Japanese side said Tokyo has started the process of reviewing its policy of testing all cattle for mad cow disease, officials said.

Japanese officials told their U.S. counterparts that the Food Safety Commission is studying whether to exempt cows aged 20 months or younger from testing for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and that it is likely to be next spring or later when Japan will relax conditions for mad cow testing.

Japanese officials also said Japan will lift the ban on U.S. beef imports if Washington can verify that U.S. exports are limited to meat from cows slaughtered before 20 months of age and if the U.S. government can guarantee it removes specific body parts such as brains and spinal cords, which might cause the disease.

The two sides also exchanged views on ways to establish the ages of cows, but apparently remained divided on the issue, according to negotiation sources.

The United States has said it is able to establish an animal’s age by checking the quality of meat and the formation of bones. Japan has rejected this method.

The high-level beef talks between the two countries were last held in April.

U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture J.B. Penn is representing the United States, while the Japanese team is led by Kenichiro Sasae, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Economic Affairs Bureau.

Senior officials from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry are also participating in the talks.

Japan imposed the ban on U.S. beef imports after the first case of mad cow disease was found in the state of Washington in December.

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