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US Beef Ban Lifted by Japan
Japanese government to lift ban on U.S. beef imports Thursday
TOKYO (AP) — The Japanese government will officially approve resuming U.S. beef imports from selected meat processing plants on Thursday, easing a blanket ban imposed earlier this year over mad cow fears, officials said.

The approval will come after a strategy meeting of the Agriculture ministry on Thursday, where officials will debate when to start accepting beef shipments and other details, according to ministry official Hiroaki Ogura.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party agreed Wednesday to resume imports from selected facilities after being briefed by government officials on a recent inspection tour of U.S. meat-processing plants.

Japanese inspectors toured 35 plants to find out whether they meet Japanese guidelines against mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a degenerative nerve disease in cattle.

Under a bilateral agreement, all beef shipped to Japan must come from cattle less than 20 months old and no brain or spinal material can be included because that tissue is known to carry the disease.

Inspectors found problems at one of the 35 plants, and the facility will not be immediately allowed to resume exports, Kyodo News agency reported. Public broadcaster NHK said a second facility would remain under surveillance because it was found to have previously broken import rules.

Officials at both the Agriculture and Health Ministries could not immediately confirm the reports, which did not name the facilities involved.

Japan imposed a ban on U.S. beef in January after a veal shipment was found to contain banned animal parts. A previous ban lasted two years from December 2003, when the first case of mad cow disease was found in the American herd.

Once the United States' most lucrative overseas market for beef, Japan has faced growing pressure from Washington to restart the beef trade.

In people, eating meat products contaminated with mad cow disease is linked to a rare but fatal disease called variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.