Tokyo wants answers on U.S. beef

Japan wants to see the results of a survey of U.S. meatpacking before starting talks on reopening its market to American beef, Japan's agriculture minister said Tuesday.

Japan banned the meat in January over mad cow disease worries, and U.S. officials are in Tokyo this week to restart talks on lifting the ban.

Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa said the negotiations could start as soon as Wednesday, if Tokyo gets the answers to questions it had about 37 meatpacking plants.

"We only received an overview but there are things we want to confirm," Nakagawa told reporters. "We want to hold talks once we receive answers."

Chuck Lambert, U.S. undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, is leading a team of agriculture officials to Tokyo.

The U.S. Embassy confirmed Lambert and his delegation were in Tokyo, but could not say whether talks would start on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Japan shut its profitable market for U.S. beef in December 2003 after the first discovery of mad cow disease in the United States. The ban was eased in December 2005 to allow the import of meat from cows 20 months old or younger.

But in January, Japanese customs officials found spine bones, which Tokyo considers at risk for the disease, in a shipment of American veal, and the market was closed again, reports the AP.

I.L.