Yesterday, Japanese government officials said Japan is leaning toward dropping its demand that the U.S. test all its cattle for BSE. A story in today's edition of The Japan Times says cows younger than 20 months will likely be excluded from the testing because existing test methods can't readily detect the disease in young animals, the sources said.
 
Japan banned U.S. beef imports in late December 2003 after discovery of the first U.S. case of BSE. Since then, Japan has demanded the U.S. government test all U.S. cattle at slaughter, or provide equivalent safety assurance, as a condition of reopening its borders to U.S. beef. The U.S. maintains blanket testing is unscientific.
 
The article says that, since 80% of U.S. beef cattle are harvested before 20 months of age, most would be eligible for export, without testing, if Japan excludes cows younger than 20 months from the test. In Europe, cattle younger than 30 months aren't tested because they are considered to represent little risk of infection, the article adds.
 
The 20-month threshold is important to Japan because a case was discovered in a 21-month-old, Japanese cow. "Twenty months would be the age limit to win public understanding for ending blanket testing," the article quotes one government source as saying.
 
A committee of experts from Japan's Food Safety Commission are to meet next Friday to discuss the possible exclusion of young cattle from BSE testing. Based on that committee's conclusion, Japan's Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry would then work out specific measures to end blanket testing. If a decision to end to blanket testing can be decided by August's meeting between senior U.S. and Japanese government officials, the Japanese beef ban might soon be resolved, the article says.