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Last Updated: Monday, 12 December 2005, 04:39 GMT
Japan eases import ban on US beef
Cow's head
Before the ban, Japan was America's largest export market
Japan has said it will resume imports of US beef, ending a ban imposed when BSE (mad cow disease) was found in US cattle in December 2003.

The government said beef from American cattle under 21 months old would be allowed back into the country.

The ban was a huge blow for the US, which counted Japan as its most lucrative export market.

Monday's announcement also means Japan will resume its much smaller level of beef imports from Canada.

The move follows a report last week by Japan's Food Safety Commission, which recommended a resumption of limited imports.

The new rules will allow meat from cattle under 21 months old back into the Japanese market, provided strict guidelines are adhered to by US producers.

The ban on beef from higher-risk older cattle will remain.

It is not immediately clear when US meat will reappear in Japanese shops and restaurants, but according to Kyodo News agency it could already be available by the end of this year.

Eating beef from cattle infected with mad cow disease can cause a fatal human brain disorder, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

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