Almost 1.2 million Japanese consumers, as well as restaurants, signed a petition last month urging Japan officials to end the ban on U.S. beef imports, the Associated Press reported. Organizers submitted the petition to Japan's Ag Ministry.

“Most Americans are eating U.S.-grown beef with confidence about its safety — then why can't we?” asked Yasuharu Tagaya Tagaya, campaign spokesman and an official with the Japanese fast-food chain, Yoshinoya D&C Co.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said last month his goal is to have U.S. beef exports flowing to Japan by July.

Meanwhile, Japan confirmed its 17th domestic case of BSE last month. A 4½-year-old Holstein cow was said to have been born in September 2000, the year before Japan's enacted its feed ban on ruminant protein.