Australia lifts ban on beef imports

Australian beef exports are likely to plunge sharply following the australian government's decision to relax restrictions on imports of food from countries hit by mad cow disease, say reports.

Trade minister Simon Crean and cabinet colleagues- agriculture minister Tony Burke and health minister Nicola Roxon said the government was responding to lowered threat perceptions from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease.

Australia introduced stiff measures when BSE struck European countries in 2001 and beef imports from any country that reported any cases were banned.

In a statement the ministers said they did not intend to compromise Australia's food standards, a claim disputed by opposition agriculture spokesman John Cobb.

He said the question to ask was what would happen to the biggest market for Australian beef, Japan, which is also a premium market as it takes only the best and the third biggest Australian market Korea which is also known to be sensitive if BSE were to strike in Australia.

He said in the event the Japenese or Koreans would not hesitate to shut their market to Australian beef.