DC, May 9, 2005 (ENS): The Japanese Food Safety
Commission Friday recommended waiving bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE) testing for cattle younger than
21 months of age. An animal 21 months of age is the
youngest ever to test presumptively positive for the
fatal brain wasting disease known as mad cow disease.
The ruling allows the government to approve the resumption
of U.S. beef imports. Japan closed its markets to U.S.
beef in December 2003 after the United Stated confirmed
its first, and only, case of BS. Japan, which has reported
17 cases of BSE, tests all cattle and has insisted that
the U.S. also test all of its cattle before it would
lift the 17 month old ban on U.S. beef.
Japan's agriculture and health ministries will now
review the panel's recommendations. Decisions by Japan’s
advisory panels are not legally binding, but the government
usually follows their recommendations.
American Meat Institute President and CEO J. Patrick
Boyle said today that preventive strategies, rather
than testing, are the best assurance that the meat supply
is free of the agent that causes BSE.
"A common myth held by both the media and the
public is that if cattle test negative for BSE, then
they’re free of the infective agent," said
Boyle, referring to misshapen proteins known as prions
that are believed to cause BSE.
"The reality is that although an animal may test
negative for BSE, the agent may still be present in
its body. The agent that causes BSE has a long incubation
period and thus testing animals before the disease can
be detected is a costly exercise that offers no real
assurances of safety. Unless an animal is six months
or less away from clinical diagnosis, the test will
be ineffective in finding the BSE,” Boyle said.
Specified risk materials (SRMs), the parts of the animal
that contain the infective agent, like the brain and
spinal cord, are by law removed from all animals intended
for human consumption. "It’s the removal
of the SRMs, and not testing, that ensures food safety,"
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised the
issue of Japan lifting completely a ban on imports of
U.S. beef during a February meeting with Japanese Foreign
Minister Nobutaka Machimura.
Japan was the largest market for U.S. beef and products
with sales in 2003 before the ban was imposed exceeding
$1.7 billion. Exports in total account for well over
10 ten percent of the total value of U.S. beef output,
according to the the U.S. Department of Agriculture
A special marketing program will be developed for Japan
under which USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service will
certify that exported products meet the terms of an
agreement that was roughed out by officials of the two
countries last October.
The marketing program will be evaluated by the countries
in July and modified as appropriate, the USDA said.
This evaluation will be based in part on an independent
review of the marketing program and the BSE situation
conducted by experts from the World Organization for
Animal Health (OIE) and other organizations.
While other countries, such as Egypt, Mexico and South
Korea have eased their bans against U.S. beef, the opening
of the Japanese market has been seen as pivotal to normalization
of U.S. beef exports.