The Japanese minister for Health, Labor and Welfare, Chikara Sakaguchi, is expected to issue a declaration next Thursday to the effect that beef and milk are safe to consume.

Consumers are getting increasing worried about the spread of BSE and the ministry has been attempting to reassure shoppers that the prion thought to cause the disease is not present in beef and milk.

Sakaguchi said at a news conference after a cabinet meeting earlier today that the safety of beef and milk should be seen as a separate issue to the incidence of mad cow disease in the country. "It will be difficult to issue a declaration that there will no longer be a case of mad cow disease," he warned.

All cows to be processed for human consumption will undergo rigorous inspection from next Thursday, however, as the government steps up measures to combat mad cow disease.