U.S. struggles to assure Japan over mad cow disease

WASHINGTON, DC, January 27, 2004 (ENS): Bush administration officials have told their Japanese counterparts that it is not necessary for U.S. federal inspectors to test all slaughtered cattle for mad cow disease.

But the meeting failed to convince Japanese officials to lift a ban on U.S. beef and neither side appeared willing to budge on the issue.

Japan tests 100 percent of the cattle it slaughters and wants to see other beef producing nations follow suit. It is one of some 40 countries that have banned U.S. beef in the wake of last month's discovery that a Washington state dairy cow was infected with the deadly brain wasting disease.

Mad cow disease, officially known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), spreads from one animal to another by consumption of feed that has been contaminated by protein - such as blood or meat meal - from an infected animal.

Consuming beef from infected cattle is believed to cause variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, which is always fatal for humans.

In 2002 the U.S. beef industry exported $1 billion - one third of its total exports - to Japan.

At a press briefing Friday following a meeting with Japanese officials, U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture J.B. Penn said it is neither efficient nor effective to do "massive testing" of younger cattle in which BSE "is very unlikely to manifest itself."

"We did discuss the possibility of 100 percent testing, and we have reviewed the scientific basis for that," Penn said. "We think it not necessary to do 100 percent testing."

In the past two years, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors have tested approximately 20,000 of the 40 million cows slaughtered annually in the United States, about one in every 2,000 animals. This is 47 times the recommended international standard, according to the USDA.

The U.S. agriculture official said the United States concentrates its testing on "higher risk" animals, including older cows and cows that have calved, because the system provides the highest probability of identifying animals that would exhibit the disease.

Penn said the meetings were "meaningful [and] productive" but acknowledged there were "no new proposals presented from either side."

Nine herds in three states have been quarantined by U.S. officials because of the concerns about mad cow disease.

DNA tests and agricultural records proved the infected cow came from a dairy farm in the Canadian province of Alberta.

The USDA has 27 of the 81 cattle listed on the Canadian health certificate definitely accounted for and is continuing to try and trace back the origin and fate of the remaining animals.