The government on Friday lifted all age restrictions on imported U.S. beef for the first time since the measures were imposed in 2003 to counter mad cow disease.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry removed the ban on United States beef from cattle older than 30 months after the food safety commission signed off on the move in January.
The move comes as Japan faces mounting pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump to give American farmers greater access to its agricultural market.
In addition to asking for the age restriction to be removed, Washington has pushed Tokyo to cut tariffs on farm products as the two sides continue to negotiate a bilateral trade deal.
Some major exporters of agricultural products, such as Australia, benefit from free trade deals that Japan has concluded recently.
The health ministry said Friday it had also lifted similar restrictions on beef from Canada and Ireland.
The ministry eliminated the ban on condition that parts where prions — a misfolded protein thought to be the cause of mad cow disease — concentrate be removed before shipment. Such parts include portions of the small intestine and spinal cord of cattle over 30 months old.
Japan placed a blanket ban on U.S. beef in 2003 after discovering the brain-wasting disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, in some specimens.
Japan partially resumed imports in 2005, but those were limited to beef from cattle no older than 20 months. The ban was then reinstated for half a year in 2006. Since then, Japan has gradually eased import restrictions on the grounds that the United States has been internationally recognized as having the lowest risk of the disease.
At the request of the health ministry, a research panel of the food safety commission began investigating in April last year whether beef from the United States, Canada and Ireland posed a health risk.
In January, it reported to health minister Takumi Nemoto that the risk was “negligible,” leading to the lifting of restrictions on Friday.
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