Japan has asked 26 beef-exporting countries to provide country-of-origin certificates for beef shipments to help prevent the spread of mad cow disease.
Last week, Japan's ministry of agriculture sent a notification letter to 26 countries, including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Mexico, informing them of the decision.
The request, to be applied to shipments to Japan from 1 July 2003, reveals the level of concern in Japan about beef imports from the US that may have originated in Canada, where a case of mad cow was found in May.
Industry experts say that the request will have the biggest impact on the US, which will now have to identify and segregate Canadian cattle imported before the case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was found. The US is the second biggest beef exporter to Japan behind Australia.
On 21 May 2003, Japan banned all imports from Canada of meat and products produced from cattle, sheep and goats. The government claimed that it imposed the ban to prevent the disease from again spreading in Japan, where beef demand has gradually been recovering. The country discovered its first mad cow case in September 2001.
BSE is a chronic, degenerative disease that affects the central nervous system of cattle. In Britain, where the disease was first diagnosed in 1986, over 3.7 million cattle had to be destroyed in the 1980s and 1990s.
A rare human form known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is thought to result from consuming contaminated cattle products. There is no cure for the human form of the disease, which is known to have killed more than 100 people in Britain and Europe.