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From: TSS ()
Date: October 24, 2005 at 6:59 am PST


By MARI YAMAGUCHI Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press

TOKYO Oct 24, 2005 — A Japanese government panel on mad cow disease delayed a decision Monday on whether to recommend easing a two-year-old ban on U.S. beef imports, despite preparing a draft report concluding the risk from American beef is very low.

The panel had been widely expected to send the report to the Food Safety Commission, setting in motion a process that could lead to the reopening of Japan U.S. beef's most lucrative overseas market to the imports by the end of the year.

Japan bought about $1.5 billion worth of U.S. beef in 2003, making it the most lucrative overseas market for American beef products.

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The delay risked flaring tensions with the United States ahead of a visit in mid-November by President Bush. U.S. beef producers and their supporters have argued that the ban was unnecessary and have accused Japan of dragging its feet on lifting it.

Yasuhiro Yoshikawa, chairman of the panel, said he hoped the panel would reach a final decision as early as at the next meeting, which is expected later this month or early next month.

"In today's meeting we were not able to reach an agreement," Yoshikawa said.

He said the decision was delayed because two key members were unable to attend, and other members said they wanted more information about two other diseases in the United States that could be related to mad cow disease.

Japan imposed the ban on Dec. 24, 2003, after the discovery of the first case of mad cow in the United States, in Washington state.

After lengthy negotiations, the two governments this year agreed that Japan would reopen its markets to meat from American cows of less than 21 months old. Mad cow disease has never been detected in cows that young.

The panel had already prepared a draft report concluding that the difference in risk between Japanese and American beef was very low, as long as proper precautions were taken. Japan has discovered 20 domestic cases of mad cow disease since 2002, but tests every cow going to market.

Several panelists, however, raised questions about reliability of U.S. safeguard measures and how they can be ensured.

Yasuhiro Yoshikawa, right, chairman of a special committee on beef safety, presides over a meeting as acting chairman Kiyotoshi Kaneko looks on in Tokyo Monday, Oct. 24, 2005. The committee is expected to recommend the easing of the ban on imports of U.S. beef before the end of this year to Japan's Food Safety Commission, paving the way for a partial lifting of the two-year-old measure. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)


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