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Home > Media Reiews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #166: October 7, 2003

Mad cow hits Japan again

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"Mad cow hits Japan again"
(Associated Press and Canadian Press) The Globe and Mail

Related Article:
"Japan Mad Cow Case May Affect US-Canada Trade-USDA"
(by Randy Fabi) Reuters


The disease was a curious one. Initially, it was thought to affect only cows and not humans, like most of contagious diseases which are not able to infect other species.

An example is the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). It spreads among cows and a number of other livestock very quickly in the region and causes serious illnesses. But humans would not be affected by it, or by eating the meat of those killed by the disease. (To be precise, humans could sometimes get infected, but would not cause illness.) Thus, FMD became a subject of economics, affecting production of livestock, rather than a threat to safety of human beings.

It was believed to be so, and it was treated as such, until in 1996, ten young men in the UK were diagnosed as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, the mad-cow disease. Realizing that it could infect human beings was enough, as the disease was already known to be fatal, but when it was revealed that the incubation period, a time span from infection to actual symptom to materialize, could be several decades long, caused a panic among people.

This all happened on the other end of the world for Japan, until in September 2001, when the first mad cow was found in the country. The public went mad, not because of the disease but because of the way governmental agencies handled, or the fact that they did not handle, the issue, and nasty accusations were exchanged between health and agriculture ministries.

In a month, however, a system was setup across the country to test for BSE, an astonishingly quick move considering the initial confusion and all the bureaucracy involved among and across regional governments. Since then, relative rules and procedures have been tightened so as to confirm every cow processed for people to consume must be BSE free.

This is how the recent case was found. It has certain characteristics not seen in previous BSEs. One is that it was found in a young cow of only 23 months where it was thought to take much older cows to become ill. Another was that the cow was born after what is considered to be a cause was banned, to feed meat-and-bone meal.

It might take some time to come up with answers by the experts on these questions, but economic implications are already beginning to unfold. As reported in the article, Canada is concerned about whether import ban by Japan on its beef, originally imposed because of a case of BSE was found in Canada, and supposed to have been under consideration for relaxing it by Japan, would ever be lifted now. And as the related article above writes, the US may begin to reconsider its import regulation of Canadian cows, to tighten it.

Since safety of food cannot be cared for by individual consumers, it has to be the government's most important task to guarantee supply of safe and sufficient food to its people.

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