Japan may launch wide scale testing for mad cow disease among its domestic herds next year, revealed government officials on Tuesday.

The programme, to be carried out at Japan's 198 public slaughterhouses, has been introduced months after the government banned imports of bovine meat and processed products from 17 European countries in a bid to prevent the spread of BSE.

The government also revised the regulations of the Food Sanitation Law. From February this year Japan would not accept imports of meat, internal organs or processed beef products from any European Union country member. Beef imports from other countries are now required to certify that the products are free from BSE.

The costs of testing for the disease will be included in the health ministry's budget allocated for the next year, starting in April. Annually, 1.3m cows are processed by the slaughterhouses, but the exact number to be tested for BSE will depend on the size of the budget allowance, said an official from the ministry. It is currently thought to be around 10,000 domestic cows.

No case of BSE has been reported in Japan, stressed officials from the health ministry.