TOKYO - The animal involved in what could be Asia's first case of mad cow disease was not destroyed as previously announced, but instead was processed into meat and bone meal, a government spokesman said Friday.
Agriculture Ministry spokesman Toshimichi Kado said the investigation revealed that a meal plant and a feed mill in two different Japanese states were in possession of tons of meal that included processed meat and bones from the suspect 5-year-old Holstein milk cow.
Earlier the government said the animal had been slaughtered and burned. Kado said a misunderstanding between ministry officials and local authorities had resulted in the erroneous announcement. He did not give details, but said no feed or other products containing the meat and bone meal had been sold to customers.
The suspect cow, from a farm just east of Tokyo, was slaughtered in August after mysteriously losing its ability to stand. Its meat and bones were apparently sent to be processed into meal before the results of a test for mad cow disease were known, Kyodo News agency said.
Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is thought to cause the fatal variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans who eat infected beef. CJD kills its victims by tearing holes in their brain tissue.
The ministry announced Monday that the test showed evidence of the disease. A panel of scientists is supposed to make a final determination. If confirmed, the case would be the first in Asia.
The announcement prompted a torrent of inquiries from frightened Japanese consumers, and several Asian countries responded by banning imports of Japanese beef.
Thousands of officials began inspections this week of 140,000 farms and 142 animal feed mills looking for more evidence of mad cow disease. No other cases have been reported.
The disease has ravaged Europe's cattle industry. Cows are believed to have become infected through feed containing bone meal from infected sheep.