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Japan May Ease U.S. Beef Inspections

Japan may scale back stringent inspections of U.S. beef imports that were imposed over mad cow fears, a senior health official was quoted as saying Monday.

Japan eased a 2 1/2-year ban on U.S. beef in July, but strict restrictions — including every box of American beef being opened and checked by Japanese officials — has slowed imports.

That practice could soon be under review, Kyodo News agency reported, quoting a senior health official.

"We will sort out findings to decide what to do" over the practice of opening all boxes, the report quoted Hideshi Michino, head of the Health Ministry's imported foods division, as telling a public hearing.

Ministry officials were unavailable for comment late Monday.

Japan banned U.S. beef in December 2003 after the first reported case of mad cow disease in a U.S. herd. The country eased the ban in July after U.S. and Japanese officials agreed to a deal that included strict restrictions and stringent checks at U.S. meat processing plants.

Mad cow disease, a degenerative nerve disease found in older cattle, has been linked to the rare but fatal human variant Creutzfeldt-Jabob disease.

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