Japan's Health Ministry said on Tuesday that it planned to inspect all cattle due to be processed into food, tightening up its checks for mad cow disease which currently only cover cows aged 30 months or more. The move, effective from October 18, is aimed at soothing growing public concern over mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), following the country's first outbreak of the brain-wasting disease last month. Ministry officials said BSE testing would begin at 117 meat hygiene inspection centers nationwide after inspectors had been trained in new testing methods similar to those used in Europe. Japan slaughtered 1.27 million cows in the 2000/2001 business year to March. The cattle population in Japan totals about 4.6 million. On Friday, the ministry said it had asked food makers to voluntarily recall any products they could not confirm were free of cow parts that may be unsafe. The ministry has also asked food makers not to use the potentially unsafe parts - brains, spinal cords, eyes and a tip of the small intestine - in processed food products. Another ministry official said the ministry had not invoked its legislative powers to order a recall or demand checks, but may do this later if the voluntary measures were not effective. The mad cow scare has slashed sales of both home-bred and foreign beef in Japan and shaken the farming and food industries as wary consumers shun beef despite government assurances that it is safe to eat. Industry officials said the ministry's announcement on Friday had sent shock waves through the processed food and related industries as extracts or parts of cows are used to produce popular curry, seasoning, soup and instant noodle products. Ajinomoto Co posted a notice on its website saying its processed food products had not used the potentially unsafe parts of cows and that it currently imports raw materials from countries that are free from mad cow disease. Nissin Food Products Co also said that its food products were safe and not made from the unsafe parts of cows. It said it had safety certificates from suppliers of raw materials. The Agriculture Ministry last Thursday banned the use of imported or domestically produced meat-and-bone meal to cattle. Infected meat-and-bone meal (MBM) is suspected to be the source of the disease in Japan and elsewhere. According to the recent nationwide survey, about 8,000 cows had been fed with MBM, the farm ministry said. The discovery of the fatal disease was made public on September 10 after a Holstein dairy cow on a farm in Chiba near Tokyo tested positive. Later tests in Britain confirmed the outbreak, the first BSE case in Asia.