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US mad cow safeguards below Japan standard
( 2004-01-06 14:17) (Agencies)

Japan's top agriculture official said on Tuesday that U.S. safety precautions put in place since the discovery of its first case of mad cow disease are not up to Japanese standards.

"The U.S. safeguards are not up to the level of those (in Japan)," Japan's Agriculture Minister Yoshiyuki Kamei told a news conference.

The comment came a day after similar remarks by Japan's vice Agriculture Minister Yoshiaki Watanabe, who told reporters on Monday that Japan had some doubts about the effectiveness of U.S. safeguards.

Japan, which has confirmed nine cases of mad cow disease since the brain-wasting illness was first discovered in Japan in September 2001, tests all domestic cattle used for consumption.

Kamei told Tuesday's conference that he wanted the United States to conduct the same type of tests as those used in Japan.

Last week, the United Sates announced six safety measures including a ban on the use of sick or crippled "downer" cattle for human food.

But the United States does not test all cattle used for consumption and has so far responded coolly to the idea.

Japan, the No.1 buyer of U.S. beef, suspended U.S. beef imports immediately after the December 23 announcement of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

A Japanese government source told Reuters on Monday that a Japanese technical team was planning to go to the United States this week to review U.S. safety measures. Kamei told reporters that details of the trip had not yet been set.

Japan has told U.S. officials that it is still too early to begin discussions on easing the import suspension.

Separately, Japan's trade minister told reporters on Tuesday that the mad cow issue was likely to be raised when he visits Washington this week.

"It's natural they would raise the matter, we are their biggest export market. I want to have frank talks," Shoichi Nakagawa told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

"When we had BSE in Japan, it was a big shock for us and for the population. Everyone has worked hard since then and confidence in our beef has returned, and my basic stance is that we can't allow anything to shake that confidence," he said.

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