U.S to open meat inspection facilities to Japanese surveyors

The U.S. ambassador to Japan said Washington may allow Japanese inspectors increased access to U.S. meat inspection facilities to reassure consumers and get Tokyo resume imports of American beef, a news report said Friday. Tokyo, meanwhile, reportedly plans to consult its food safety watchdog before resuming imports, a process that could take months. Tokyo last week halted U.S. beef imports after a shipment of meat was found to contain banned parts at risk of mad cow disease.

U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer said that strengthening Japanese inspectors' involvement at U.S. meat facilities would assure Japanese consumers that import agreements were being followed, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun said in a report that didn't elaborate.

Japan has already dispatched a team of inspectors to 11 facilities in five states, Colorado, Kansas, Texas, Nebraska and California. But some Japanese officials have demanded the U.S. allow Japanese officials to inspect all U.S. facilities handling beef products for Japanese markets.

In a separate report, the Nihon Keizai said that Japan may consult the country's food safety watchdog over whether the U.S. could be trusted to follow import regulations before deciding to resume U.S. beef imports.

The Food Safety Commission took months to approve a decision to lift a prior ban that was imposed in 2003 after the U.S. reported its first case of mad cow disease. Sugiya Saito, a spokesman at the commission, said the watchdog had received no formal request from the government to deliberate resuming U.S. beef imports. The latest ban on U.S. beef imports, imposed just weeks after the country lifted the previous ban, came after inspectors found banned spine bones in a shipment of U.S. veal.

Japanese officials have criticized the American inspection system and refused to reopen the country's lucrative market until the mishap is fully investigated and Washington comes up with sufficient countermeasures, reports the AP. I.L.

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