|Jiro Kawasaki, Japan's health minister, announces the end of the ban on U.S. beef|
American beef is returning to Japan. The Japanese government last week ended a ban in place since January over concerns about mad cow disease.
Japanese officials recently inspected thirty-five beef processing centers in the United States. They said all but one met Japanese safety requirements.
The ban on beef led to threats in Congress of trade restrictions against Japan.
The Japanese were the top buyer of American beef. The government first banned shipments in December of two thousand three. That was when the United States reported its first case of mad cow disease -- bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or B.S.E.
The Japanese lifted their ban last December, but renewed it in January after the discovery of backbone material in a meat shipment.
In all, there have been three confirmed cases of B.S.E. in the United States. The first was in a Canadian-born cow in Washington state. Last year a cow in Texas was found to have B.S.E.. And in March of this year, a cow in Alabama tested positive for the disease.
About twenty nations continue to ban American beef; others restrict some kinds of cattle products. Japan accepts only beef from cattle twenty months of age or younger. Also, processors must remove backbones and other parts that experts say could spread the disease.
Eating infected meat products has been blamed for more than one hundred fifty deaths, mostly in Britain.
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns says "American beef is extremely safe."
The Japanese ended their ban one week after Mister Johanns announced reductions in the B.S.E. testing program. The program will now test about forty thousand animals a year. That is still ten times the level suggested by the World Animal Health Organization.
Since June of two thousand four, the Agriculture Department has tested an average of more than one thousand animals per day. Two years of testing found two cases of B.S.E. Mister Johanns noted that both animals were born before the United States banned feeding cattle protein to other cattle.
A seven-year government study estimated the most likely number of cases at between four and seven out of forty-two million adult cattle.
But critics say the United States should be testing more cattle, not fewer.
And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Mario Ritter. Transcripts and archives of our reports are at voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Steve Ember.