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Japanese panel favors relaxing mad-cow disease-related U.S. beef import lids

An employee of a store of Costco Japan, the Japanese unit of the American retailer, arranges packs of beef imported from the United States in Makuhari, east of Tokyo, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2006. U.S. beef went on sale in Japan on Wednesday for the first time since the lifting of a ban imposed in January over mad cow disease. Inspectors on Tuesday opened the way for sales of U.S. beef to resume in the lucrative Japanese market by clearing a 5.1-ton shipment of beef imported from the U.S. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)
AP Photo, file

(AP) TOKYO — Japan is moving toward relaxing restrictions on American beef imports, which had been limited because of fears about mad-cow disease.

A panel of experts recommended Wednesday that imports of beef from cows up to 30 months old be allowed, up from the current 20 month age limit.

The proposed change applies to beef imports from the U.S., Canada, France and the Netherlands.

The panel's finding will go to the Health Ministry, which will invite comments from the Japanese public before a change is implemented. That could be later this year or early next year, a panel official said.

Japan banned U.S. beef imports in 2003, after the fatal brain disease was discovered there. In 2005, Japan allowed imports of beef 20 months or younger.