- TOKYO (Reuter) - Tests on
Saturday confirmed another case of mad cow disease in Japan, the first
since November and the fourth since an outbreak last September that devastated
the country's food sector and battered consumer confidence.
- Just weeks before thousands of visitors are due to descend
on Japan for soccer's World Cup, the Health Ministry said tests at a university
in Hokkaido, northern Japan, had confirmed a preliminary positive test
for the brain-wasting illness.
- It said the case was still pending final determination
by a panel of experts, which would make an announcement on Monday.
- Formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (news
- web sites) (BSE (news - web sites)), mad cow disease has been linked
to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (news - web sites), which has killed
about 100 people in Europe but none in Japan.
- The outbreak has gutted Japan's appetite for beef, battered
the earnings of food companies and restaurants, and damaged the faith of
consumers in the country's food-safety standards.
- Satoshi Takaya, director of the health ministry's food
safety division, told reporters the six-year old Holstein cow that had
tested positive had come from a dairy farm on Hokkaido island.
- Since October, Japan has tested all the cows slaughtered
for beef for the disease.
- The Farm Ministry said last month that it estimated the
total industry-wide damage of BSE at up to 380 billion yen ($2.95 billion)
but the report of the new case comes at a time when there were signs that
confidence in beef was returning.
- SOURCE UNKNOWN
- The latest case comes just four weeks before thousands
of visitors are due to arrive in Japan for the World Cup soccer tournament,
which it is co-hosting with South Korea (news - web sites).
- South Korea has its own problems, confirming last week
another outbreak of foot and mouth disease in its pig population.
- That disease is considered harmless for humans, but threatens
nevertheless to damage consumer confidence.
- Cattle are believed to contract mad cow disease by eating
meat-and-bone meal contaminated with BSE, but officials have not pinned
down the source of the outbreak in Japan.
- An investigating panel last month slammed the government
for ignoring warnings from both the World Health Organisation and the European
Commission (news - web sites) that could have prevented the crisis.
- Japan's total beef imports are expected to hit 506,000
tonnes this year, down 25 percent from 2001. Most imports come from the
United States, although Australia is also a major supplier.
- The weighted average price of domestic beef on the Tokyo
Meat Market hit 842 yen ($6.54) per kg this week -- a significant recovery
from lows plumbed in September, but well off levels before the first outbreak
on September 10.
- The weighted average price stood at 1,197 yen per kg
in August. Beef prices tumbled as low as 251 yen per kg in early March
but have been rebounding gradually since April.