Japan to allow foreign potatoes for the first time

Japan will allow foreign potatoes into the country for the first time, accepting a U.S. proposal to brush or wash off all dirt before shipping, send them in sealed containers, and limit their use to processed potato chip snacks, an official said Wednesday. Japan decided to accept the proposal after 17 months of deliberations, which included sending a team of experts to the United States from July to August 2005, said Masashi Kaneda of the Plant Protection Quarantine Division at the Agriculture Ministry.

Until now, Japan banned imports of foreign potatoes to keep out potato wart fungus and a potato eelworm, the ministry said. Potato wart fungus has been eradicated in the United States since 1992, while potato eelworm has been limited to areas in New York state, the ministry said.

The decision to accept potatoes comes less than two weeks after Japan re-imposed a politically charged ban on U.S. beef after finding a veal shipment containing backbone, which was prohibited in a deal with the United States as a risk for mad cow disease.

Japan produces about 3 million metric tons (3.3 million short tons) of potatoes a year, and about 10 percent are used for potato chips, Kaneda said.

Kaneda said the ministry expects the amount of potato imports from the United States will be less than 10,000 metric tons (11,000 short tons) in the initial year, reports the AP. I.L.

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