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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #248: September 14, 2004

Japan Confirms 12th BSE Case

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"Japan Confirms 12th BSE Case"
The Australian


It was only last week on September 9 when the Cabinet Office's Food Safety Commission endorsed a report prepared by the experts that screening for BSE on cows 20 months or younger is not necessary. It was obviously timed for Prime Minister Koizumi's visit to the US, where lifting the ban on import of US beef would be one of the major agenda items to be discussed with President Bush and his team.

The news of the twelfth case of BSE found on September 12th must certainly have scared a number of bureaucrats in health and agriculture fields as well as in the foreign ministry. If the news were handled poorly, it could shatter their plan to settle the issue, and resume beef import from the US.

The people have responded calmly so far to the new BSE case. One reason might be that there were other big social accidents and incidents that have attracted people's attention. But more likely, people have become well-versed in the whole BSE issue. The infected cow was more than 60 months old, which was considered as a remnant of the old days and would pose no risk to the current inspection system.

In early 1990s, people were not concerned with BSE at all. This was pretty much similar in other countries as well, since the disease was considered to be unique to cows, and have nothing to do with human beings. After a report came out in 1996 saying BSE could be the cause of human's Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, it became a huge issue in Europe. In Japan, however, the authorities said that there was no BSE in Japan, so there was nothing that needs to be done, except to ban imports of beef from those infected countries.

Such naive confidence was smashed when a case of BSE was found in Chiba prefecture in September 2001. People panicked as they were told previously that beef in Japan was safe. The authorities had no contingency measures planned and tried to excuse themselves by saying that such incident was not accounted for. In fact, poor handling of the issue by the government exacerbated the problem by making a series of hasty statements saying that the situation had became under control, only to be proven false later, and that for a number of times. People condemned this attitude by the authorities to be irresponsible, and the government lost their confidence.

The government, to cope with the situation, hastily put together a stringent formula, which was to test every cow slaughtered for BSE. There were skepticisms expressed among experts at that point already with regard to the effectiveness of testing young cows. But as if such a tough measure was the only way to recover the slightest level of confidence, the authorities pushed for the scheme, and it became the law.

Then the overcautious measure backfired in December 2003, when a case of BSE was found in a cow in the US. It was compulsory for the authorities to ban import of beef from the "contaminated" US. This in effect shut the doors for 45% of beef import, which had amounted to more than a quarter of total consumption in Japan.

It is very apt for an Australian media to report this, as introduced here, since Australia is one of the countries most affected by Japan's policy on beef imports, especially that from the US. Before US beef was banned, the share of Australian beef in Japan was 30% of total consumption, or 50% of total import. After the ban of US beef, Australia became virtually the sole foreign supplier of beef, covering half of Japan's beef consumption. The share would be affected when US beef returns, but to what extent is uncertain, which might depend largely on how the Australians themselves would view, and cope with, the situation.

Japanese people long for US beef and they earnestly want it back. Especially, "gyu-don" (beef bowls) to return, will be most welcomed as it had become a staple dish for young workers and students.

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