• Kyodo

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Agriculture minister Shoichi Nakagawa told U.S. farm chief Mike Johanns on Tuesday that reducing the number of cattle to be checked for mad cow disease will never get a positive reaction in Japan.

Johanns told Nakagawa during a meeting in Geneva that the U.S. plans to cut the number of cows to be checked because the likelihood of the disease’s occurrence is almost nonexistent, Nakagawa said afterward.

The issue is not even about safety and such a measure is never likely to be accepted positively in Japan, Nakagawa said he told Johanns.

After the meeting, Johanns said there are 90 million head of cattle in the United States, and based on past inspection results experts estimate that the likelihood of mad cow occurrence is almost nonexistent.

Johanns also told Nakagawa the U.S. government’s checks at beef-processing facilities, which are being conducted as part of ending Japan’s ban on U.S. beef imports, will be complete in about a week or 10 days.

Based on the results, Japan is expected to decide next month whether to end its ban on U.S. beef imports.

Nakagawa said Johanns urged Japan to resume the imports at an early date to counter growing anti-Japanese sentiment in the U.S. and showed a copy of an e-mail from a lawmaker’s supporters calling for economic sanctions on Japan.

Nakagawa replied the matter is not so much about safety as following the rules, and he said the exchange with Johanns grew heated at times.

Japan reinstituted the ban in January when a veal shipment from New York contained a spinal column in violation of agreed safeguards against mad cow disease. The ban had been lifted only a month before.

The U.S. has expressed frustration with the continued ban on its beef, while the January incident took a bite out of Japanese consumers’ confidence in the U.S. product.

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