U.S., Japan Compromise on Mad Cow Tests
Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE
"U.S., Japan Compromise on Mad Cow Tests"
The article reports that the scientists from Japan and the US have agreed to the possibilities of changing the testing methods for BSE, which could lead the way to Japan's lifting the ban to import US beef.
It seems to have been a consensus from the outset among Japan's veterinary pathologists as to the effectiveness of blanket testing, i.e. testing every cow slaughtered for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease. The professionals had known that that it is virtually impossible to detect BSE at its early stage by means of mass examination, just as in the case of certain types of cancer on human beings, so that it was impractical to test every, especially young, cow.
How the blanket testing began in Japan was more political than epidemiological.
When and until the first mad-cow case was found in Japan in 2001, the authorities kept saying that the beef delivered to consumers in Japan was safe, without sufficient backing to support such a claim. Having had bad track of hiding the facts on other occasions already, people denounced the irresponsible attitude of the Health Ministry, and in order to calm the fury, the government set out to establish a vast system to have each and every cow slaughtered to obtain mandatory inspection for BSE.
Thus the naive public was satisfied that every bit of their beef would be tested, without knowing that the testing is inevitably leaky. Knowledgeable people were afraid of the backlash of the public by saying that such blanket testing is a wasteful utilization of resources, and the government had lost the authority to reopen the issue for discussion.
Accordingly, it is a good news that people began to discuss the issue in a more unbiased manner.
That said, there apparently are many holes still need to be filled before the ban could be lifted, and government officials already cautioned that it may take time for the ban to be lifted. One of the issues is the age of the cow to be relieved of testing. The US proposes, and practices, 30 months, while most European countries require testing for 24 months and older cows. It has been reported that there has been a case in Japan where a BSE was located in a 21 month cow.
Before the ban, US beef comprised 40% of beef imports, or 25% of total beef consumption in Japan. Restarting the import would not only relieve the tight supply, but it would mean re-diversification of sources which has been virtually limited to Oceania only during the ban.
Restart of the US beef import would be a wonderful news for Japan's office workers and students, as it would allow for beef-bowls to come back to their list of alternatives for lunch and late-evening snacks. Before the ban, one, albeit the largest, beef-bowl chain, "Yoshinoya," used to serve more than 700,000 beef-bowls a day at close to 1,000 outlets across Japan.