TOKYO (Kyodo) - On Sunday, Japan will send inspectors on a two-week tour of U.S. meat packing plants to check whether beef is being processed safely for export to Japan in compliance with a bilateral agreement, government officials said Friday.
If no problems are found, the plants will be allowed to shift to a system of random checks from the current system in which all beef exports to Japan are checked, they said.
The coming inspections will cover 27 of the 35 meat-packing plants authorized to export beef to Japan and another plant that is scheduled to receive authorization, the officials said.
Japan, which banned imports of U.S. beef after the first case of mad cow disease in the U.S. was discovered in December 2003, resumed imports in December 2005 but reinstated the ban after a shipment violated a bilateral agreement for the resumption of imports in January 2006. Japan lifted the ban again in July 2006.
U.S. beef exports to Japan have been limited to meat from cattle 20-months or younger as a result of concern that older cattle are likelier to be infected with the disease.
If no safety problems are found during the inspections, Japan and the U.S. are expected to launch negotiations on whether to ease the age limit.