Japan plans to ease restrictions on American and French beef imports imposed due to concerns over mad cow disease, government officials and local media said Tuesday. Japan, which was once the largest buyer of US beef, halted imports after a case of mad cow disease was detected in an American herd in 2003. It now imports meat only from cattle aged under 20 months. Tokyo plans to raise the limit to 30 months starting on February 1 if the health ministry\'s council gives approval, the health, labour and welfare minister Norihisa Tamura told a news conference. Japan will also apply the same age limit to beef imported from France, which was previously totally banned, Kyodo News quoted unnamed ministry officials as saying. As for beef from cattle raised in the Netherlands, currently also subject to a total ban, Japan has been in talks with the Dutch government to set the age restriction at up to 12 months in response to its request, Kyodo said. Beef meeting these relaxed criteria is expected to start arriving in Japan around late February to early March, it added.