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U.S. rejects Japan's mad cow test

Meat inspectors check beef in Tokyo.
Meat inspectors check beef in Tokyo.

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- There is no scientific justification for administering mad cow tests to all 35 million cattle slaughtered in the United States annually, even though Japan imposes that standard on its own beef industry, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said Wednesday.

U.S. agriculture and health officials are in Tokyo this week to discuss steps Washington could take to convince Japan to resume buying American beef.

Japan banned U.S. beef after the first American case of mad cow disease was discovered on December 23.

It was the largest foreign buyer of U.S. beef, accounting for a quarter of the $3.8 billion worth exported last year.

Veneman said Japan has not yet specified what steps must be taken to bring back beef trade. But "testing of all animals is not based on sound science".

"They do in Japan require testing of every animal," she said.

"That is something that we don't think is based on sound science and so we are addressing whether or not there are equivalent ways that Washington can provide the consumer satisfaction that they are requiring," Veneman said.

Since September 2001, Japan has identified several cases of mad cow, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which is linked to a fatal human version of the disease.

Japan's beef consumption fell 30 percent following its first case of mad cow.

As the search for infected U.S. cattle expanded, Veneman said tracking down the originally infected animal's herd mates should be located within weeks, not months.

Investigators have found only 27 of 98 animals that were raised together and may have shared the same source of feed before being shipped to the United States in 2001.

Meanwhile, a Mexican official said his country had no intention of relaxing its ban on U.S. beef until the Americans find all the herd mates of the Washington state Holstein infected with mad cow disease.

Mexico is the second largest buyer of U.S. beef.

But Poland, an insignificant importer of American beef, has become the first country to lift its trade ban, USDA said.

Veneman told a congressional hearing on Wednesday the Bush administration was talking with Canada about stricter livestock feed regulations on both sides of the border.

The USAD is considering a mandatory national livestock identification program, rather than a voluntary one, that would help track cattle infected with ailments such as mad cow disease, she said.

Mad cow disease is believed to be spread through feed contaminated with cattle parts.

U.S. industry sources have speculated the Food and Drug Administration might ban the use of cattle blood as a protein supplement for calves.

A form of mad cow disease has been linked to about 140 human deaths, mostly in Europe.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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