OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Japan has agreed to ease some of its restrictions on U.S. beef, so exports to the Asian nation may grow.

The Agriculture Department announced the change Monday.

For several years Japan has restricted beef imports only to animals age 20 months or younger because of concerns about mad cow disease.

Starting Feb. 1, Japan will allow U.S. beef shipments to come from cattle up to 30 months old, which is a widely used standard.

Younger cattle are believed to pose less of a risk of carrying mad cow disease, but American officials had repeatedly criticized Japan's tough 20-month standard.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk this change is great news.

Japan banned all U.S. beef imports from 2003 to 2006 after the first case of mad cow disease in America.