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US works to reassure Japan amid suspected mad cow case

More testing is conducted; results are expected soon

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is trying to reassure Japan and other foreign customers that American beef is safe while awaiting further tests on a suspected case of mad cow disease.

Routine testing indicated the possible presence of the disease in a US cow, the Agriculture Department announced Saturday. Results from more detailed testing at department laboratories in Ames, Iowa, are expected in the next week.

In the meantime, Washington is working to satisfy concerns from overseas trading partners.

''We're certainly keeping them informed of the situation and will relay all the information we have," department spokesman Ed Loyd said yesterday. ''When we have further test results, we will share that with our trading partners."

Japan halted US beef shipments in January after finding veal cuts with backbone -- cuts that are eaten in the United States but not in Asia.

Japan had been the top customer of American beef before the first US case of mad cow disease prompted a ban, which Japan recently lifted.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns met Friday with his Japanese counterpart, Shoichi Nakagawa, while they were in London for global trade meetings.

Johanns intended to brief Nakagawa about the possible case of mad cow disease before leaving London, Loyd said.

Johanns expects to send a formal response in the coming week to lingering questions Japan has about the prohibited shipment of veal.

The secretary, who testified last week on Capitol Hill about budget matters, said lawmakers are eager for trade to resume, Johanns said.

Whether the animal was infected affects issues other than trade.

The department has been deciding whether to scale back its higher level of testing for mad cow disease.

Testing was increased from about 55 to 1,000 daily after the first case of mad cow disease in 2003. As of Friday, 644,603 of the nation's estimated 95 million head of cattle had been examined under the enhanced level of testing.

It was this testing that turned up the suspect case. The department would not say where the cow was from.

The United States has found two cases of mad cow disease.

The first was in December 2003 in a Canadian-born cow in Washington state. The second was in June in a cow that was born and raised in Texas.

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