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BSE: Japan faces public fears


On September 12, Japan's farm ministry began checking feed plants and asked local authorities for a nationwide inspection in an attempt to ease public concern over Asia's first suspected case of "mad cow" disease, Reuters reports. The case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was made public on Monday after a Holstein dairy cow on a farm in Chiba near Tokyo tested positive. "We have asked local authorities for checks on all cattle regarding BSE," Shigeo Miyajima, director of the ministry's animal health division, told reporters. Some 5,800 animal health experts would check cattle nationwide to see if they had similar symptoms, Miyajima said. The ministry has also started investigating some 30 domestic plants producing compound feed for cattle to see if they are using meat-and-bone meal (MBM) as a feed ingredient, another official said. Before the ministry announcement, some local authorities had already scrambled to inspect cattle farms in their regions. The central Tokyo Metropolitan government started checking some 200 cattle farms in its area, while the northern Hokkaido region, Japan's main cattle-breeding area, began inspecting its 1.27 million cows, officials said. "We started inspecting about 4,800 cows in the Tokyo area to see if they have abnormal symptoms and are raised with meat-and-bone meal," Ken Suzuki, an official with the Tokyo government's livestock division, told Reuters. Japan imported 184,000 tons of MBM in 2000, the latest year for which data are available. Earlier this year, Japan banned all cattle-related products from the European Union, but it had previously imported animal feedstuff, including MBM, from Britain and other EU nations. Last year, Japan imported about 55,000 tons of MBM from Denmark and Italy, which have since suffered outbreaks, although Japanese officials said these products would have been heat-treated before being used. Given that the disease has an incubation period of between 2 and 8 years, the 5-year-old cow could have been infected some time ago, possibly by British MBM imports, which Japan only banned in 1996. The ministry said the infected cow had been born on Hokkaido Island and had been moved to the Chiba farm 3 years ago. The remains of the slaughtered cow would be sent to Britain for further tests to confirm the disease. The Japanese Health Ministry has banned sales of meat products from the Chiba farm and said the ban could be extended to other areas. In June, the European Commission said Japan's government had withdrawn its cooperation on a Commission study that was moving towards the conclusion that BSE could break out here. Japan's government maintains that its food safety standards are high, but it has been criticised at home and abroad for not banning the feeding of bone meal to cattle. Japan exports very little beef, just 358 tons last year. As of February 2001, Japan's total cattle population, including calves, stood at 4.5 million heads, 2.8 million for beef and another 1.7 million for dairy. Last year, Japan's beef output totalled 364,145 tons and its imports stood at 738,415 tons.

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