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Perspective from Japan

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Well-known member
Feb 10, 2005
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Southern Manitoba
Blanket-testing cattle for BSE makes no sense


Yomiuri Shimbun

Is it really necessary for Japan to insist on having cattle blanket-tested for mad cow disease, a regime without parallel internationally?

The Cabinet Office's Food Safety Commission should promote discussion on the issue soon with a view to dropping its insistence on wholesale testing.

The issue of lifting the nation's ban on U.S. beef imports has begun adversely affecting relations between Japan and the United States.

U.S. President George W. Bush urged Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi by telephone Wednesday to have Japan resume imports of U.S. beef as soon as possible. Meanwhile, U.S. legislators have submitted a resolution to the Congress, calling for the Bush administration to take retaliatory steps against Japan.

As things stand, it seems that the issue could produce friction in relations between Japan and the United States, which had until recently been basically good.

The biggest impediment preventing settlement of the issue is foot-dragging by the Food Safety Commission.


System unscientific

Japan slapped its ban on U.S. beef imports after the first case of mad cow disease was found in the United States in December 2003. The ban was implemented because unlike Japan, the United States did not introduce blanket testing for bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

But Japan is the only country in the world that blanket-tests beef cattle for BSE, irrespective of their age.

In most European countries, only cattle aged 30 months or older are subject to blanket testing because it is difficult to detect BSE in cows younger than that age, in whose bodies the abnormal prion protein that causes the brain-wasting disease in cattle is not present in detectable quantities.

It is common knowledge that the most effective way of preventing BSE-contaminated beef from reaching consumers is to thoroughly remove and dispose of cattle brains and spinal cords, which are the parts most susceptible to contamination with BSE.

In Japan, calls for ending the blanket-testing system have been on the rise since spring last year.

In response to such pressure, the commission concluded in a report it compiled in September that it is difficult to detect BSE in cattle aged 20 months or younger using the current testing method, indicating its stance that blanket testing should be ended.


End interminable debates

After the commission entrusted its panel of experts to conduct a full-fledged discussion on the issue, in response to formal requests for advice sought by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, cautious views prevailed in the commission. Although six months have passed since the discussions were launched, the commission has yet to reach a conclusion.

How long will it continue debating the issue? Blanket testing was taken primarily as an emergency measure to prevent panicky consumers from stopping eating beef. Now that consumers have calmed down, it is only reasonable for the testing standards in Japan to move into line with international standards.

Even if the commission does decide to recommend that blanket testing be ended, specific conditions for lifting the import ban will have to be discussed. Given this, the removal of the ban may not come until this autumn.

Nevertheless, the panel of experts meets only once every three weeks, a situation that is bound to invite criticism from the U.S. side that Japan is playing for time.

At home, there are those who suggest that the beef import ban be lifted on condition that the country of origin of U.S. beef products is clearly specified, leaving consumers to decide whether to buy them.

The commission needs to recognize the strong irritation it has aroused, both at home and abroad, by its dawdling.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 11)
LIVE animal BSE blood testing is coming.Now what do you DO.Still promote discussion Or CHANGE and test with new technology.

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