Senators Want Japan to Lift Beef Import Ban

Twenty senators from farm states have written to Japan's ambassador in the United States, urging his country to follow up on its promise to lift an import ban on American beef (search).

The letter, sent Wednesday, also raised the possibility of a trade battle if Japan does not live up to its October agreement to end the ban.

"If the Japanese government fails to lift the ban expeditiously, we are afraid that the U.S. Congress may pursue equitable, ura. State Department officials have said Japan understands U.S. concerns and has made a commitment to resolve the issue.

The ban was imposed in December 2003 after the United States discovered its first case of fatal brain-wasting mad cow disease (search), known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, in a Washington state Holstein.

Before the ban, Japan (search) was the most lucrative overseas market for U.S. beef producers, buying $1.7 billion in beef in 2003.

Earlier this month, a Japanese government panel took a step toward partially lifting the ban, but the decision still has to be approved by the government. The panel recommended that Japan begin importing U.S. grade A40 beef, which comes primarily from cattle 12 to 17 months old.

Although the panel's decision was welcomed by the U.S. government as an important step toward resuming trade, Japanese consumer organizations criticized the move, saying it was politically motivated.

The letter was signed by senators from Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota and Texas.

"Our government has acted in good faith with Japanese officials to implement appropriate safeguards using internationally recognized science," the senators wrote. "Regrettably, these attempts have been rejected repeatedly by some in your government who are intent on stopping any resolution of this issue by using unrealistic requirements and dubious science."