The Japanese government has asked the Food Safety Commission to discuss its proposed conditions for resuming imports of Japanese beef, but no end to the ban is expected before the autumn, according to the Asahi Shimbun.

The action is one of the final administrative procedures required to lift the ban, it said. Imports are not expected to resume until autumn at the earliest, however, because many consumers distrust the safety of beef that is not subject to blanket testing. Some panel members also remain cautious about resuming imports at an early date.

The ban was imposed in December 2003 after the first US case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy was discovered. The panel's discussions will also cover Canadian beef, whose import has been suspended since May 2003 following the discovery of an infected cow.

The Food Safety Commission, set up within the Cabinet Office, will discuss whether the government's two conditions can ensure the safety of imported beef to a degree that is equal to tests of domestic beef.

One is to remove the brain, spinal cord and other dangerous parts that harbour the prion protein, believed to cause mad cow disease.

Another is to limit imports to beef of cattle slaughtered at 20 months or younger.

Even if the commission accepts the two conditions, the trade row with the United States is expected to continue.

The U.S. government already plans to call on Japan to accept beef from cattle slaughtered at 30 months or younger.

A subcommittee on prion protein under the Food Safety Commission is scheduled to begin deliberations next Tuesday.

One of the key topics will be the actual situations concerning BSE infections in the United States and Canada.

It is also expected to take time to assess the US method of removing the dangerous parts, which is different from the Japanese method, and to evaluate the US method of determining cattle's age.

Discussions will be based on the data the health and agriculture ministries have presented to the panel.

Officials dispatched to the United States and Canada this month gathered the data, from tours of meat processing facilities.