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Government panel recommends lifting age restrictions on imports of U.S. beef to Japan

Kyodo

A research panel with Japan’s food safety commission said Thursday that safety will be assured even after the removal of import restrictions on U.S. beef that were imposed to counter mad cow disease.

Findings will be reported to health minister Takumi Nemoto after a month of eliciting public comments, setting the stage for the government to eliminate the current restrictions that only allow imports of U.S. beef from cattle aged 30 months or younger.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry also plans to hold talks with the United States on the details, such as how meat should be processed, before officially deciding to remove the import restrictions, officials said.

“I want the Japanese government to actively check whether the United States is conducting risk management properly to ensure safety,” Noboru Manabe, head of the research panel and professor at Osaka International University, said after the panel meeting.

Japan has been facing U.S. pressure, which has grown stronger under the administration of President Donald Trump, to eliminate the current age restriction.

The current rules have been in place since 2013, driven by concern over bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease.

The panel has been studying the potential health effects of scrapping the restrictions since April at the request of the ministry.

The panel also looked into U.S. food safety management, such as the removal of cattle tissue that carries a high risk of contamination.

No specific problems were pointed out during the discussions.

Japan banned all imports of U.S. beef in 2003 following the discovery of BSE among U.S. cattle, but resumed imports in 2005 of U.S. beef from cattle aged no more than 20 months.

It banned imports for six months in 2006 after finding some risky beef parts, but has gradually eased import restrictions on the grounds that the United States has been internationally recognized as having the lowest risk of the disease.