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Japanese tour of U.S. beef facilities eases mad cow concerns

By Carl Freire

Associated Press

TOKYO -- Japan's Agriculture Ministry has formally approved a resumption of U.S. beef imports, a ministry official said Thursday.

The lifting of the ban, imposed over mad cow disease fears in January after Japanese inspectors found banned parts in a veal shipment, would remove a key source of friction between Tokyo and Washington.

It would also give U.S. beef exporters access once again to what had been one of their most lucrative markets.

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Japanese inspectors on Sunday returned from a tour of 35 U.S. facilities to evaluate their compliance with safeguards against mad cow disease. Japan requested the tour in June as a condition for its agreement to resume imports.

Under an agreement, all U.S. beef shipped to Japan must come from cattle less than 20 months old, and no brain or spinal material can be included because the disease can be carried in that tissue.

Japan was a huge consumer of U.S. beef before 2003, when Japan bought about $1.4 billion worth.

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