Japan on Thursday moved closer to a total ban on beef imports from the European Union as it vowed to keep out the deadly mad cow disease.
The United States and Australia make up an overwhelming 95 percent of Japan's annual beef imports, with the EU countries accounting for just 0.1 percent.
But Japan would join a growing list of countries, most recently Iran, in suspending EU beef imports for fear of the disease formally called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
Japan last week announced a total ban on animal feed made from EU meat and bone meal, and a ban on the use of medical ingredients derived from cattle from 29 nations.
But scientists on a panel advising the Japanese agriculture ministry recommended that the government should go further.
"Although the current measures we have in place against BSE are considered effective enough, imports from the EU of beef, beef organs and processed products should be completely banned," the panel said in a statement.
The experts also proposed suspending EU imports of cattle sperm and ova, which are used in farming for fertilization.
"In light of the recommendations, we will discuss these measures," an agriculture ministry official told AFP.
"There is a strong chance that we will enact these measures," he said.
Experts say eating meat from BSE-infected cattle can lead to a fatal human form of the brain-wasting illness, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD).
Japan's imports of beef from the EU, Switzerland and Liechtenstein stood at 740 tons from April to October, accounting for a tiny proportion of its total beef imports of 784,600 tons -- TOKYO (AFP)
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