Japan's independent Food Safety Commission has today (Friday) approved an easing of the blanket testing of all cows for BSE, paving the way for lifting an import ban on US beef, the Kyodo news agency reports.

The commission will convey its decision to the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry and the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry later in the day, government officials said.

Japan banned imports of American beef after the December 2003 discovery of the first US case of BSE.

Earlier in 2001, Japan started testing all domestically slaughtered cows entering the market after finding its first case of the disease. It required foreign-raised cattle bound for Japan to be similarly tested.

The commission endorsed an earlier proposal by a task force of experts that the blanket testing system can be relaxed, and that beef from slaughtered cattle aged 20 months or younger can be excluded from tests for mad cow disease.