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* OIE upgrades Japan's BSE status to "controlled risk"
* Decision to add pressure on Japan to accept U.S. imports
By Sybille de La Hamaide
PARIS, May 26 (Reuters) - The world animal health body OIE said on Tuesday it had eased Japan's status on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease to "controlled risk", a move that should boost meat trade with the Asian country.
"This official categorisation of Japan and of other OIE listed countries contributes to the safety of international trade," OIE Director General Bernard Vallat told Reuters.
"It also provides guarantees to the consumers because it is the proof that these countries have applied the measures recommended by the OIE based on its adopted standards -- to prevent risks to public and animal health," he added.
The decision, taken at the OIE's general assembly in Paris, meets a request by the Asian country to obtain a status that other countries already have, hoping it will pave the way for major markets to relax import restrictions on Japanese cattle.
Under OIE regulations, there are three BSE risk categories -- negligible, controlled and undetermined risk.
Controlled risk status is granted to countries where adequate measures are taken, including the removal of certain risk materials such as brains, eyes and spinal cords, even though some cases of mad cow disease are still found.
More than 30 countries, including the United States, Britain and France, are in the controlled risk category while 10 countries are classified as negligible risk.
U.S. BEEF EXPORTS STAND TO BENEFIT
While Japan's exports have grown five times in two years to just over 500 tonnes last year thanks to heavy promotion, they are still tiny compared to imports that totalled about 470,000 tonnes, more than half the beef consumed in the country.
Analysts said the OIE decision would add pressure on Japan to let in more U.S. imports, as it could hardly ask countries to end restrictions on its meat due to its new OIE status without easing its own limits on U.S. imports.
One compromise may be extending the age limit of Japan's ban on any U.S. beef from cattle over 20 months old, a measure that has crimped shipments to what was once the United States' biggest beef buyer, taking more than a third of total U.S. exports, they said. [ID:nT216885]
The U.S. industry last week stressed the significance of the expected OIE ruling, which would put Japan's BSE status on the same level the United States has had since 2007. [ID:nN21289676]
For details of Japan's beef imports by source: here
For details of Japan's beef exports: here
To access a full list of countries' BSE risk status: here
(Additional reporting by Miho Yoshikawa in Tokyo; Editing by Anthony Barker)