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U.S. beef imports low 6 months since ban ended

30 January 2007

TOKYO - Lingering fears about mad cow disease and tight government restrictions have kept imports of U.S. beef at just one-tenth of what they were, even though a ban was lifted six months ago.

The volume of imports has recovered steadily, but the latest figures are about 2,000 tons a month, a fraction of the 20,000 tons recorded before imports stopped.

Saturday marked six months since the lifting of a ban on imports first imposed in December 2003 after a single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy was discovered in the United States.

Since the ban was lifted in July, 8,540 tons of U.S. beef have been imported through Jan. 19, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The U.S. government has kept the pressure on Tokyo to ease its condition restricting imports of beef from cattle 20 months old or younger.

The requirement is proving an expensive burden on exporters, and prices for U.S. beef are higher now than before the ban.

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