The Japanese government indicated it may end the current practice of inspecting all boxes of beef imports from the US over fears of mad-cow disease, Kyodo reported.

Based on the inspections of US beef imports thus far and those of US meat-processing plants, the government has found no structural or systematic problems on the part of the US, officials from the agriculture and health ministries said at a public hearing with consumers and importers, according to Kyodo.

“We will sort out findings to decide what to do” over the practice of opening all boxes containing US beef for safety checks, said Hideshi Michino, who heads the office for the safety of imported foods at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

Japan banned imports of US beef after the first US case of mad-cow disease was discovered in December 2003.

The ban was lifted in December 2005 but reinstated in January the following year after a US veal shipment that arrived at Narita airport was found to contain part of a backbone, a risk material banned under a bilateral agreement on beef trade.

The ban was lifted again last July after Japanese government inspectors checked the safeguards in place at meatpacking plants certified as suppliers to Japan by the US government.

During the hearing, a consumer group representative questioned whether the current inspection program is adequate enough to ensure the safety of US beef, while an importer said a cut in the scope of inspection should cause no problem as long as feed given to cattle in the US is subject to strict control. (Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)