WASHINGTON, 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
"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.