Japan reports new form of Mad Cow disease

TOKYO, Japan, October 7, 2003 -- CropChoice news -- Reuters: A cow identified by Japanese experts as having mad cow disease has a new form of the ailment, farm minister Yoshiyuki Kamei told reporters Tuesday.

Farm and health officials are puzzled over a Holstein cow which the Health Ministry said Monday had tested positive for mad cow disease, Japan's eighth case since September 2001.

The ministry said Monday that the 23-month-old cow in Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo, had an ``unusual'' form of the brain-wasting ailment, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

Kamei told reporters: ``This is a new type of BSE, and we need to talk to experts and study this case thoroughly in order to get to the bottom of how it happened.''

Mad cow disease has been linked to variant Creuzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which has killed more than 100 people in Europe, although there have been no cases of the disease in Japan.

Ministry officials and experts told a news conference on Monday that the abnormal proteins that cause BSE found in the latest case appeared to be of a different type than seen before. ``We will continue to carry out tests at the slaughterhouse...and remove certain parts in order to secure the safety of our food,'' Kamei said.

Government officials said tests will be made to try to find out if this new type of BSE can be transmitted to other animals and to discover how the cow was infected.

Monday's case was the first to be confirmed in Japan in a cow less than two years old. The disease has an incubation period of two to eight years.

Although BSE has been discovered before in cows of under two years, many scientists believe young animals and boneless cuts are unlikely to contain the abnormal proteins.

The previous seven confirmed cases of BSE in Japan occurred in animals about five years old.

``Although there have been other cases of the disease in cows of 20-21 months...it is certainly very rare,'' said Hideshi Michino, deputy director at the Health ministry.

The infected cow, which was slaughtered on September 29, will be incinerated.

Contamination route a mystery

Experts are puzzled how the infection occurred, since the animal was born after Japan banned the use of meat-and-bone meal (MBM) feed in October 2001. Experts consider the feed the most likely route for the infections that occurred in Japan.

Japan imposed a ban on the import, sale and use of MBM as feed a month after it confirmed its first case of mad cow disease, which was also Asia's first.

Investigators have long linked the disease to MBM made from the bones and parts of infected cows.

Late last month a panel of ministry experts said in a report that the most likely source of Japan's BSE outbreaks was either cows imported from Britain in the 1980s or contaminated MBM from Italy.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said it was seeking more details of the latest BSE case in Japan, which could affect a USDA plan to reopen U.S. borders to shipments of live Canadian cattle under 30 months of age.

The news from Japan contributed to a rise in cattle prices at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, on concern it could crimp beef and cattle shipments from Canada.

The first few BSE cases in Japan rocked the country's food sector, hit the earnings of restaurants and meat packers, and shook the public's faith in food safety standards.

Shares in some food companies dipped in a knee-jerk reaction to Monday's news of a possible new case of mad cow disease in Japan.

But Nippon Meat Packers Inc, Japan's largest sausage maker, was up Tuesday, recovering from its dip the previous day. It closed up 1.56 percent at 1,175 yen.