The government imposed a temporary suspension Tuesday on beef exports after revelations of possible foot-and-mouth disease in some cows in Miyazaki Prefecture.
The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry took the voluntary measure after the Miyazaki Prefectural Government announced earlier in the day that three cows were suspected of being infected with the virus.
"The suspension will last for at least three months," agriculture minister Hirotaka Akamatsu said.
Japan exported about 550 tons of beef in fiscal 2008 through March 2009.
If no more cows are found infected with the foot-and-mouth disease virus for the next three months, it will be up to importing countries to decide whether to accept Japanese beef.
"The government will take every measure to prevent the disease from spreading further," Akamatsu said. "The disease will do no harm to humans even if they eat beef from infected cows."
The Miyazaki Prefectural Government said a veterinarian found a light ulcer in the mouth of one of 16 cows at a farm April 9. Two other cows were found to have similar ulcers Saturday.
The National Institute of Animal Health in Tokyo has notified the Miyazaki government that the three cows tested positive for the virus in a preliminary examination. If confirmed, it would be the first case of foot-and-mouth disease in Japan since 2000.
The prefectural government will slaughter the 16 cows at the farm and set a zone where livestock movements and shipments will be restricted