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Japan halts beef imports from one U.S. meat plant

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan on Thursday stopped importing beef from a U.S. meat plant after American authorities failed to confirm that beef from the plant without proper documents met Japan's safety requirements on the U.S. origin, the health and farm ministries said.

Cargoes of beef from a plant of Cargill Inc in Schuyler, Nebraska, which arrived Tokyo on November 22, included a package without quarantine documents, and the two ministries asked the U.S. authorities to confirm the age of the cattle concerned.

The import halt came after U.S. authorities said they could not confirm the beef met Japan's requirements of cattle aged 20 months or younger, the two ministers said in a joint statement.

Japan is on the way to relaxing the regulations to cattle aged 30 months or younger, as its food safety watchdog said in a report to the government in October that the risk from doing so would be negligible to human health.

The rules, imposed in 2005 after the outbreak of mad cow disease, known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE, have caused U.S. imports to plunge and Australian beef to gain market share in Japan's 500,000 metric tons-a-year (551,160 tons) imported beef market.

Japan and U.S. governments were currently in talks on relaxing the age of cattle for U.S. beef imports to Japan and the timing and other details were not yet fixed, a health ministry official said.

(Reporting by Risa Maeda; editing by James Jukwey)

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