The United States will send a team of scientific experts on mad cow disease to Japan next week to discuss with their Japanese counterparts ways to resolve a 16-month import ban on U.S. beef at the earliest possible date, U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer said Monday.
The move is viewed as the latest effort by Washington to entice Japan to speed up its domestic process for lifting its ban on American beef amid mounting voices from U.S. lawmakers to slap economic sanctions on Japan.
The team of experts will “try to answer any other questions that the Japanese might have on scientific grounds for continuing this ban,” Schieffer said.
The U.S. team is expected to arrive early next week to talk with government officials as well as Japanese consumer groups, which oppose lifting the import ban, a Japanese official said.
During his first news conference in Tokyo since arriving in Japan earlier this month, Schieffer stressed the importance of resolving the issue based on scientific fact.
“To do that, we hope that people can step back a little from the emotion of the issue to look at it on scientific grounds,” he said at the embassy. “Let’s try to divorce the emotion from the science.”
Last month, a subcommittee of the Cabinet Office’s Food Safety Commission issued a report saying the government does not need to test cattle 20 months old or younger for mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, saying that doing so would not raise the health risks for humans.
But the process the commission must go through before Japan’s current blanket testing of cows is actually revised and Tokyo’s ban on U.S. beef can be lifted may take several more months.
“We don’t want this to be a continuing irritant in the (bilateral) relationship,” Schieffer said.
He noted that Japanese consumers should be able to decide whether they want to buy U.S. beef. The envoy emphasized the safety of U.S. beef, noting that no health concerns have been reported in the U.S.
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