Government-appointed experts met Friday to discuss a proposal from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to ease mad cow disease-related restrictions on beef trade.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry organized the meeting in Tokyo to map out Japan’s response to the Paris-based organization’s proposal.

Members of the agriculture ministry’s advisory panel on food and agriculture policies and members of the health ministry’s advisory panel on drug and food sanitation participated in the meeting.

The two ministries will hold a meeting that will include consumer group leaders on April 18 before finalizing Japan’s position on the OIE proposal, government officials said.

The OIE, whose standards serve as animal safety guidelines for the World Trade Organization, has distributed the proposal to member countries and hopes to adopt it at a general meeting opening May 22 in Paris.

The OIE has called for strict curbs on beef trade for material at high risk of containing bovine spongiform encephalopathy, such as brains, but has proposed easing trade restrictions on muscle separated from the bone, saying it is safe from BSE.

If the OIE adopts the proposal, it will enable countries with cases of BSE to continue exporting beef products, including flank steak.

17th mad cow case

A 4 1/2-year-old Holstein that appeared to be sick before it was slaughtered has become the 17th case of mad cow disease in Japan, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said Friday.

The cow was raised in Otofuke, Hokkaido. It was born in September 2000, the year before feeding cows with meat-and-bone meal was banned to limit the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, ministry officials said.

The cow was checked extensively after signs of BSE turned up during preliminary tests earlier this month. The tests were conducted at the National Institute of Animal Health in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Of the 17 cases of BSE found in cattle since September 2001, most of the animals were born between February and April 1996.

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