SAO PAULO (AP) -- China and South Africa have banned imports of Brazil's beef because of fears of mad cow disease, Brazil's Agriculture Ministry said Friday.

The ministry said in a statement that the two countries temporarily suspended their beef imports from the world's second-largest exporter of the product. Japan did the same earlier this month.

The ministry said earlier this week that the carcass of a cow that died two years ago in southern Brazil contained disease-carrying proteins, or prions, but the animal did not "manifest the disease nor die of it".

"This episode does not pose any risk to public health or animal sanitary safety, considering that the animal did not die of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (the scientific name of mad cow disease) and the fact that it was buried in the property itself," the ministry said in an earlier statement.

Neither China, Japan nor South Africa are major importers of Brazilian beef.

During the first 10 months of the year, Brazil exported 11,700 tons of beef to the three countries, compared with total exports of 1 million tons during the same period.

Brazil has said it will send missions to the top 20 nations that buy its beef to explain the case.

"The government will provide all the necessary clarifications to eliminate all doubts as to our animal sanitation defense system," Jose Carlos Vaz, the ministry's secretary general, said this week.

According to the ministry, the case was reported to the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health, which has maintained Brazil's "status as a country with insignificant risk" of mad cow disease.

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