Nearly half of the respondents to a farm ministry survey said they have changed their diets since the first case of mad cow disease was found in Japan in September 2001.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said Thursday that 43 percent of 1,557 respondents to an Internet poll conducted in February and March have either cut beef out of their diets or reduced how much they eat. Seven percent said they ate beef occasionally, and 36 percent cut back on consumption.

The survey showed 53 percent of the respondents had not changed their eating habits.

Of the respondents who reduced their meat consumption, 56 percent said they felt uneasy as many aspects of the disease have yet to be scientifically explained.

Thirty-six percent of the people who no longer ate the meat said they had become used to their beef-free diets.

Of the people who had not changed their eating habits, 26 percent said they continued to eat beef because they liked it. A further 26 percent believed there were enough measures in place to ensure the meat was safe.

Ministry officials said the survey results indicate that although the public is aware of some of the safety measures the government has taken, people should be given more information.

Eateries tongueless

SENDAI (Kyodo) Sendai, famous for its grilled beef tongue, is in danger of losing many of its restaurants specializing in the delicacy due to growing problems with supply, according to restaurant managers.

Since Japan banned U.S. beef in December 2003, when the first case of mad cow disease was found in Washington state, many beef restaurants in Sendai switched to Australian beef to keep their businesses going.

But recently it has become difficult to get Aussie beef, as wholesalers are often out of stock and prices keep rising, the managers said.

“We can’t generate any profits (by using Aussie beef), after taking employees’ salaries into consideration,” said Hatsuo Sano, 61, who runs a beef restaurant in the city. “If we close this shop even temporarily, customers will never come back.”

Sano said Sendai beef restaurants could be on a course to extinction if the current ban on U.S. beef is in place much longer.

Katsuhiko Endo, 51, another beef restaurant manager, said he has had no choice but to drastically change his establishment’s menu. His restaurant has been offering lamb since the spring.

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