In Mexico, an Agriculture Ministry official says his country is willing to lift its ban on U.S. beef, as soon as the United States proves that a suspected case of mad cow disease in Washington State is an isolated one.

The pledge comes from Food Safety Director Javier Trujillo. He says his primary concern is the health and welfare of consumers, and the Mexican cattle industry. But in the interests of bilateral trade, Mexico, which is one of the three largest importers of U.S. beef, is willing to be flexible.

"The very day that we have concluded that this is actually an isolated case, I would be prepared to lift the ban the following day," says Mr. Trujillo. "Otherwise, we have the obligation, as well as the authority, to keep the restrictions as we can justify scientifically."

Mr. Trujillo says a team of Mexican and Canadian specialists is planning to travel to the United States as early as next week to work with U.S. colleagues to investigate the situation. He says the U.S. beef imports ban cannot be lifted until this happens. "The ban for those products that are of risk will remain, until we have further information that allows us to really say that we are lifting the ban, without threatening the welfare of the Mexican interest." The Mexican government has announced that, from this Friday, it will allow the import of U.S. items, which have no direct link to mad cow disease. These will include dairy, produce and cattle reproductive products.