Major Japanese supermarket chain Ito-Yokado Co. brought American beef back to its shelves Friday, about 3 1/2 years after sales were halted in the wake of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease, a parent company spokesman said.
U.S. beef went back on sale at 20 Ito-Yokado stores, mostly in the Tokyo area, said Shirotake Henmi, spokesman for giant Japanese retailer Seven & I Holdings Co.
After Japan lifted its latest ban on U.S. beef last July, the company's buyers conducted on-site checks of meat exporters in Colorado and Nebraska, Ito-Yokado said in a statement.
The results of those and other checks were favorable, as has been customer response to trial sales of the meat at Ito-Yokado stores, leading to the decision to bring the product back on a limited scale, the company said.
"If the desire for it is there, we'd like to expand sales to more stores," said Henmi. The chain plans to monitor sales and customer reactions closely, he said.
Ito-Yokado has 179 stores across Japan.
Japan banned American beef imports in December 2003 after the first case of mad cow disease _ or bovine spongiform encephalopathy _ was found in the U.S.
The ban was eased in December 2005, but tightened again the following month after prohibited spinal bones were found in a veal shipment.
Japan only allows imports of U.S. beef from cattle 20 months old or younger, because mad cow disease has not been detected in meat from young cattle.
In May, the World Organization for Animal Health ruled that the U.S. was a "controlled risk nation" _ a country that can export beef from cattle of any age. The U.S. has cited that report in urging Japan to review and relax its policy.
On Thursday, Japan asked for more technical information on American beef for export after two days of talks with the U.S.