WASHINGTON (Kyodo) U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns indicated Monday that the United States intends to press Japan to adopt a North American risk-mitigation standard for mad cow disease, a move that might force Tokyo to completely resume imports of American beef.

“My hope is that we can continue that international dialogue because, for example, Japan would like to export to us Kobe beef,” Johanns told reporters, referring to the unified risk-mitigation strategy announced last week by Canada, Mexico and the United States.

“There has to be an international way,” Johanns said, suggesting that Japan should adopt the standard to resume imports of U.S. beef and to pave the way for the United States to lift its ban on imports of Japanese beef due to mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Japan was the largest importer of U.S. beef before it imposed the ban in December 2003, when the U.S. discovered its first case of the disease. The U.S. has also banned imports of Japanese beef since Japan’s first outbreak in 2001.

Canada, Mexico and the United States plan to present the strategy at a World Organization for Animal Health meeting in late May to press other countries to adopt it as an international standard for the brain-wasting illness.

If it becomes an international standard, Japan’s current agreement with the United States to resume imports only from animals aged up to 20 months will likely violate this standard.

The North American strategy involves nine specific measures that highlight BSE risks for cattle aged older than 30 months, which are considered to be more at risk of contracting the disease than younger animals. This strategy would allow beef to be exported regardless of age.

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