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The World Organization for Animal Health is expected to upgrade its evaluation of Japan’s safeguard measures against mad cow disease, government sources said Sunday.

The government will try to boost Japanese beef exports after the Paris-based international organization, known by its French acronym OIE, upgrades Japan’s status, the sources said.

Tokyo is also expected to begin considering easing age regulations for testing meat for mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, they said.

The OIE is expected to grant the authorization to Japan during a general session that opened Sunday, the sources said.

If the government begins to consider relaxing the current testing rules, the U.S. will likely apply more pressure to lift Japan’s beef import restrictions so it can sell more beef here.

Japan currently requires beef from cattle aged 21 months and older to be tested for mad cow disease.

The government will have to be careful about deciding when to revamp the testing rules because the public remains wary about U.S. beef, given that some cow parts banned by Japanese import regulations were found in beef shipments from the U.S. after the current restrictions were put in place, industry watchers said.

Under OIE regulations, there are three risk categories — negligible mad cow risk, controlled risk and undetermined risk. Ten countries are classified as posing a negligible risk.

Controlled risk recognition is granted to countries where adequate measures, including the removal of risk materials such as brains and spinal cords, are taken even though mad cow is not completely eradicated.

The U.S. and 30 other countries are in the controlled risk category. Japan applied for the status in December, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said.

Thirty-six infected cows have been found in Japan since the first case of mad cow disease here in 2001.

There were three cases in 2007, one last year and one so far this year.

Since the first case, the government has instituted various measures, such as banning the use of bone-meal cattle feed made with brains and spinal cords.

About 20 countries and territories banned imports of Japanese beef, and only five of them, including Singapore, have so far resumed beef purchases from Japan.

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