09/05/2012 02:57 EDT | Updated 11/04/2012 05:12 EST

Japan panel recommends relaxing restrictions on Canadian, U.S. beef imports

TOKYO - Japan is moving toward relaxing restrictions on some beef imports, which had been limited because of fears about mad-cow disease.

A panel of experts recommended today that imports of beef from cows up to 30 months old be allowed, up from the current 20 month age limit.

The proposed change applies to beef imports from Canada, the United States, France and the Netherlands.

The panel's finding will go to the Health Ministry, which will invite comments from the Japanese public before a change is implemented.

A panel official says that could be later this year or early next year.

Japan banned U.S. beef imports in 2003, after the fatal brain disease was discovered there. In 2005, Japan allowed imports of beef 20 months or younger.