Japan Blasts US Safeguards
Against Mad Cow

By Kenji Hall
Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) -- Japan questioned the effectiveness of U.S. safeguards against mad cow disease Monday, suggesting Tokyo would hold out for stricter U.S. screening of livestock before lifting its ban on American beef.
After the discovery of the first U.S. case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, last month, the United States imposed new restrictions aimed at keeping any tainted meat from entering the food supply.
But vice agriculture minister, Yoshiaki Watanabe, indicated the U.S. action hasn't quieted concerns in Japan about the safety of American beef.
"They are not as effective as steps being taken in Japan," Watanabe told a news conference on Monday.
Tokyo halted imports of U.S. beef immediately after last month's discovery of BSE in a cow in Washington state. The ban left U.S. beef producers without their biggest export market, estimated to be worth $1 billion.
The United States tests only a small percentage of the 35 million cattle slaughtered a year, targeting older animals or ones that show symptoms of the disease. Japan has screened all 1.3 million cows processed as food each year since discovering its first case of the bovine brain-wasting illness two years ago.
U.S. agriculture officials have suggested comprehensive screening of all beef to be eaten by people would be unnecessary and costly.
The mad cow scare has hit restaurant chains in Japan that depend heavily on U.S. beef and forced many to consider switching suppliers and offering alternatives.
On Monday, Japan's agriculture ministry said it plans to send envoys to Australia and New Zealand this week to ask about buying more of their beef.
Japan imports about two-thirds of its beef, and around 47 percent, or more than 226,000 tons, came from the United States last year. The rest comes mostly from Australia and New Zealand, neither of which has had a reported case of mad cow disease.
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