Japan will begin the process of lifting its 22-year-old ban on British beef imports later this year as no confirmed cases of mad cow disease have emerged there in recent years, government sources said Saturday.
Tokyo might let beef from cattle 30 months or younger be imported, ending a ban imposed in 1996.
In 1986, Britain became the first country to confirm cattle infections from the brain-wasting disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
Of around 190,000 cattle found infected around the world, some 180,000 were raised in Britain. But no infection has been found in the country since a 2009-born cow tested positive in 2015, leading London to request that Tokyo lift the ban.
The Cabinet Office’s committee on food safety is expected to submit a report warranting the safety of British beef to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry as early as this month, the sources said. The ministry will then decide whether to resume imports after dispatching officials to Britain to inspect beef-processing factories, they said.
So far, Japan has resumed beef imports from 14 countries, including the United States and Canada, after banning the trade over mad cow outbreaks in those countries.
In the absence of British infections in recent years, the Food Safety Commission of Japan has concluded it would be safe to eat beef from Britain as long as imports are from cattle 30 months or younger and some parts deemed risky, including spinal marrow, continue to be banned.
Similar age limits have been introduced for beef imports from other countries as research has shown that it takes at least 40 months for cattle with abnormal prions, a type of protein alleged to be the cause of the disease, to develop infections.
Of the 526,000 tons of beef Japan imported in fiscal 2016, 52 percent came from Australia, followed by the United States at 39 percent, according to data from the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and other organizations.
In 1995, a year before Tokyo imposed the ban on British imports, Japan imported around 160 tons of stomach and 16 tons of tongue from cattle raised in Northern Ireland.