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Food safety minister Yasufumi Tanahashi said Tuesday he does not expect the Food Safety Commission to come under political pressure to approve lifting the 15-month-old ban on U.S. beef imports.

“The commission is making scientific discussions and is not expected to take any political consideration into account,” Tanahashi said of the growing U.S. pressure to end the ban triggered by mad cow disease. Tanahashi spoke to reporters after a morning Cabinet meeting.

While the United States has urged Japan to specify the date for lifting the ban before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits Tokyo later this month, Tanahashi told a news conference no decisions by the commission will be linked to the visit.

Since the two countries reached an agreement in October to resume imports of beef from animals aged up to 20 months, the Japanese panel of scientists has been considering whether food safety will be secure even if blanket testing for mad cow disease excludes cattle aged 20 months or under to pave the way for partially lifting the import ban.

The Food Safety Commission has been deliberating whether to stop the blanket testing, which involves testing all slaughtered cattle for mad cow disease.

The U.S. has rejected Japan’s call for similar testing of U.S. cattle, saying partial testing is sufficient. There is strong opposition in Japan to stopping blanket testing, especially among consumer groups. Blanket testing was introduced here after mad cow was detected in 2001.

Keidanren worried

The head of the nation’s largest business lobby expressed concern Monday about moves in the U.S. Congress to seek retaliatory steps against Japan’s 14-month import ban on U.S. beef.

“It’s extremely undesirable for the issue to become international friction as a result of the prolonged ban,” Hiroshi Okuda, chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), said during a news conference.

The Food Safety Commission should hold meetings more often to demonstrate it is actively addressing the issue without just leaving the ban intact, according to Okuda.

The commission, consisting of scientists, is discussing food safety measures related to mad cow disease as a basis for a decision by the government.

A group of U.S. representatives submitted a resolution in late February urging economic sanctions on Japan over the beef ban.

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