December 26, 2003



Japananese Specialist To Study US Mad Cow Case


Japan will send a team of specialists to the U.S. in January to collect information on the Holstein cow that tested positive for mad cow disease, a government official said Thursday.


Japan, the largest export market for U.S. beef, banned U.S. beef imports Wednesday after U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced that authorities had found a first suspected case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy.


The Japanese Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries Ministry official, who declined to be identified, wouldn't elaborate on what the specialists would do while in Washington state.


Tokyo has been leery about mad cow disease since the nation's herds suffered the first recorded outbreak of the disease in Asia in September 2001, causing meat consumption to plunge. Consumption has since rebounded.


Japan suspended U.S. beef imports despite assurances from U.S. officials that the beef supply was safe.


"All of the beef products that we provide to Japan are safe," the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said in a statement Thursday. "We would like to restore normal trade as quickly as possible."


A U.S. Embassy official said it wasn't trying to pressure Tokyo to lift the ban.


"I think it's too early to be encouraging anyone to do anything before we know all the facts," the official said.


The ban comes as Japan is still grappling with doubts about its domestic beef supply. The country quarantined 604 cows in October to prevent the spread of the disease after authorities confirmed that a 23-month-old bull had a new strain of the bovine illness - the nation's eighth case.


Japan is the largest overseas market on value terms for U.S. beef. Exports totaled $842 million in 2002, accounting for 32% of the market, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.


Mad cow disease, known also as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, eats holes in the brains of cattle. It sprang up in the U.K. in 1986 and spread through countries in Europe and Asia.

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