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Half of the 12-member group of experts tasked with assessing the safety of U.S. beef have apparently resigned, because the government announced their replacements Monday.

The six who resigned, including Tokyo Medical University professor Kiyotoshi Kaneko and Kazuya Yamanouchi, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, are believed to be cool to the idea of resuming beef imports from the U.S.

The research panel of the Food Safety Commission assessed the safety of U.S. beef before the removal last December of a two-year-old import ban imposed after the discovery of the first case of mad cow disease in the United States.

A month later, however, the ban was reinstated after banned spinal material was discovered in a U.S. veal shipment at Narita airport.

Morikazu Shinagawa, former director general of the Prion Disease Research Center at the National Institute of Animal Health and one of the six members who resigned, said, “I couldn’t continue to work,” because the conclusion to remove the import ban in December had been set in advance by the government.

According to the Cabinet Office’s announcement, the six new members of the prion research group include Tokyo Medical and Dental University professor Hidehiro Mizusawa and Shiro Mori, who succeeded Shinagawa as head of the prion research center.

Their two-year term started Saturday.

University of Tokyo professor Yasuhiro Yoshikawa will continue as chairman of the beef safety research group.

The ban on U.S. beef was eased to allow restricted imports following findings from the commission that it posed no more risk than Japanese beef if certain screening procedures were followed.

The decision was made under heavy U.S. pressure.

The deal fell apart in January, however, when Japan again shut its market over the spinal cord found in the veal shipment. Japan considers brains, spinal cords and other designated parts to be at risk of mad cow disease.

Resuming the beef trade is a touchy political issue between the U.S., which wants renewed access to what was once America’s most lucrative export market, and Japan, which is concerned about protecting food quality.

Both sides are still negotiating possible safeguards that might allow trade to resume.