- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2007

TOKYO (AP) — U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer ate free samples of American beef yesterday at the first major Japanese supermarket to sell the meat after the lifting of a nearly three-year ban.

“Good,” he said, after popping a slice of grilled steak into his mouth at a Seiyu, a supermarket chain owned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. “I’ve been waiting all week to come out here,” he said, before purchasing steaks for his wife and himself.

Mr. Schieffer was visiting the Tokyo store with Seiyu Chief Executive Ed Kolodzieski, who also ate some of the beef for sale in the meat section, decorated with tiny American flags.

The return of American beef at Seiyu came ahead the resumption of sales Saturday at 20 Seiyu stores in the region near Tokyo.

Japan banned American beef imports in December 2003 after the first case of mad cow disease 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.

Tokyo eased the restrictions again in July, but allows only meat from cows aged 20 months or younger. Japan also limits imports to beef that has been through stringent checks at selected U.S. meat processing plants.

Seiyu Ltd., 51 percent owned by Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart, is the first major Japanese retail chain to start selling American beef. Seiyu operates about 400 stores here.

Other major chains have kept U.S. beef off their shelves, choosing instead to sell Japanese and Australian beef.

Aeon Co., Japan’s biggest supermarket chain, has no plans to resume selling American beef, said company spokeswoman Kaori Watanabe.

“We are being cautious because we must consider how customers will be able to shop at our stores without worries,” she said.

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