• The Associated Press


The government is preparing to approve the resumption of U.S. beef imports this week, officials said Tuesday, despite a report that Japanese inspectors found problems at some U.S. meat processing plants.

Officials from the agriculture and health ministries are expected to decide soon, possibly when the Food Safety Commission meets Thursday, on whether to allow the beef back into Japan.

But inspectors who toured U.S. meat processing facilities found compliance problems “at one or two facilities,” a newspaper reported Tuesday, citing unidentified health ministry officials.

The inspectors returned Sunday after a month touring 35 U.S. meat processing facilities to find out if they meet Japanese guidelines.

Japan, which tests all of its cattle, banned U.S. beef earlier this year amid concerns about mad cow disease but agreed in principle to resume imports last month on condition that their inspectors found no problems at U.S. plants.

The U.S., which refuses to test all its cattle, announced earlier this month it would scale down testing further to one-tenth of current levels.

Experts are examining the inspection results and details cannot yet be disclosed, health ministry official Kenichi Watanabe said. He said Japan has not decided what to do if any problems are found at the U.S. plants.

The last time Japanese officials inspected U.S. meat plants, they delayed the findings for months and censored them by blacking out key details before releasing the reports to the public.

Japan lifted an earlier ban on U.S. beef late last year but reimposed it in January after inspectors found a veal shipment containing backbone, an animal part banned to prevent the spread of mad cow disease.

Health and agriculture officials are compiling a report on the inspections and the government is expected to announce which facilities have been approved to send beef to the Japanese market.

A Liberal Democratic Party beef panel is scheduled to meet Wednesday, and members of the newly stocked Food Safety Commission are scheduled to gather for a regular meeting Thursday to discuss the report.

“We cannot delay a decision for no reason,” agriculture ministry official Hiroaki Ogura said.

Tokyo has faced growing pressure from Washington to reopen its beef market, and half of the Food Safety Commission resigned in April over what they considered hasty moves to restart U.S. imports.

Japan was a huge consumer of U.S. beef before 2003, when it banned U.S. imports over concerns about possible mad cow disease — formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE — among U.S. cattle.

In humans, eating meat contaminated with the disease is linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a rare and deadly nerve disease.

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