TOKYO — Japan’s government on Friday fully lifted age restrictions on beef imported from the United States for the first time since measures were imposed in 2003 to counter mad cow disease.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare removed a ban on U.S. beef from cattle older than 30 months after the food safety commission signed off on the move in January.
The U.S. government welcomed the move and estimated that the expanded access could increase American beef and beef product exports to Japan by up to $200 million annually.
“This is great news for American ranchers and exporters who now have full access to the Japanese market for their high-quality, safe, wholesome, and delicious U.S. beef,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said.
“We are hopeful that Japan’s decision will help lead other markets around the world toward science-based policies,” he said in a statement.
The move comes as Japan has faced mounting pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump to give American farmers greater access to its agricultural market.
In addition to asking for the age restriction to be removed, Washington has pushed Tokyo to cut tariffs on farm products, as the two sides continue negotiations for a bilateral trade deal.
Some major exporters of agricultural products such as Australia benefit from free trade deals that Japan has concluded recently.
The health ministry said Friday it also lifted similar restrictions on beef from Canada and Ireland.
The ministry eliminated the ban on the condition that parts where the cause of mad cow disease — a misfolded protein called prion — is prone to concentrate, are removed. Such parts include portions of the small intestine and the spinal cord of cattle over 30 months.
Japan placed a blanket ban on U.S. beef in 2003 after the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease, in some specimens.
Japan partially resumed imports in 2005, limited to beef from cattle aged no more than 20 months, but reinstated the ban for half a year in 2006. It has since gradually eased import restrictions on the grounds that the United States has been internationally recognized as having the lowest risk of the disease.
At the request of the health ministry, a research panel of the food safety commission began in April last year an investigation into whether beef from the United States, Canada and Ireland posed a health risk.
In January, it reported to health minister Takumi Nemoto that the risk was “negligible,” leading to the lifting of restrictions on Friday.
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