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AGRICULTURE REPORT - Japan Awaits Final Tests Before End to Ban on U.S. Beef

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I'm Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Japan agreed last week to import beef from the United States again. But first, Japanese officials will inspect American meat processors as a final step to be sure the beef is safe.

The Japanese government banned American beef in December of two thousand three. At that time, the United States reported its first case of mad cow disease. The official name is bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or B.S.E. Scientists link the brain disease in cows to a rare version in humans.

The Japanese government eased its import ban last December, after two years. But the discovery in January of backbone material in a shipment of meat led officials to renew the ban. Experts say spinal cords may spread B.S.E.

To reduce the risk of B.S.E., beef products exported to Japan must come from cattle twenty months or younger.

Under the new agreement, Japanese experts will inspect all thirty-five American meat-processing centers permitted to export to Japan. The teams are expected to finish their work by July twenty-first.

In the future, Japanese officials will be able to join American inspectors for surprise inspections. Also, Japan has agreed to consider steps like the rejection of individual shipments instead of a complete ban.

The agreement followed long negotiations by agricultural and trade officials. Lawmakers in Congress have proposed to punish Japan with high customs if it does not open its market by August thirty-first.

The United States was one of the largest exporters of beef until the finding of B.S.E. in a cow in Washington state in two thousand three. After that, exports dropped by more than eighty percent. A second infected cow was found in Texas last year.

But exports have started to recover. The government says it expects American farmers to export more than four hundred thousand metric tons of beef this year. Still, that is less than half the levels in two thousand three.

The United States is the world's largest producer and user of beef, as well as the biggest importer. Japan is the second biggest importer. But until two thousand three, it was the top market for American beef. That year, Japan imported more than one thousand million dollars worth. Since then, Australia and New Zealand have increased their beef exports to Japan.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. If you would to read and listen to our report online, go to www.unsv.com. I'm Steve Ember.

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