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Japanese and U.S. government officials on Monday discussed conditions for lifting Japan’s ban on U.S. beef imports in connection with mad cow disease.

The U.S. team, led by Charles Lambert, deputy agriculture undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, explained in detail the cattle age verification method in the U.S., under which the age is estimated by checking the meat quality and bone formation, and stressed the safety of U.S. beef, Japanese officials said.

Toshikazu Ijichi, an adviser to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, led the Japanese team, which included officials from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Foreign Ministry.

The Japanese side will study the age verification method and will send experts to the U.S. next month to further check the safety measures, the officials said.

Vice farm minister Mamoru Ishihara later told a news conference that he saw the move as “some progress.” The U.S. side had been refusing to provide the Japanese side with additional information regarding its beef safety regime.

Lambert’s team also held a seminar on the safety of U.S. beef at the Tokyo American Center in the morning. Later in the afternoon it held discussions with representatives of a liaison group for nationwide consumer groups.

Japan and the United States have agreed to resume imports of U.S. beef from animals aged up to 20 months, but Japan has yet to decide on when to lift the 16-month ban.

Washington has repeatedly urged Japan to end the import ban and ease its safety standards in line with guidelines from the World Organization for Animal Health.

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