First Asian BSE/Mad Cow
Case Found In Japan
By Jae Hur

TOKYO (Reuters) - A dairy cow has tested positive for "mad cow" disease in Japan in the first case of the fatal virus to be reported in Asia.
However, ministry officials said on Monday they believed the chances of a serious outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Japan remained low and that there was no problem with Japanese milk or beef.
"This suspected case does not change our position that the chances of mad cow disease occurring in Japan are very low," Takemi Nagamura, director-general of the farm ministry's livestock industry department, told a news conference.
He said the government could be forced to review its position if the disease was confirmed by specialist facilities in Europe.
The ministry said the cow in question had been slaughtered in the Chiba area, near Tokyo, and that none of its meat had reached consumers.
"We see no problems with beef for consumption or milk," Nagamura said
However, the health ministry said it had ordered a ban on sales of meat products from the farm in Chiba where the suspected case occurred "as a precautionary step".
The ban could be extended, the health ministry said, depending on the farm ministry's research, particularly into which other farms used the same animal feed suspected of being fed to the cow in Chiba.
An official panel is to decide on Tuesday whether the cow, would be sent to specialist facilities in either Britain or Switzerland for further tests.
The cow was slaughtered on August 6 and it was submitted for testing at a Japanese research centre on August 15 because it had had difficulty standing upright.
This first test was negative but, because it revealed air pockets in the cow's brain, further testing was carried out on September 6. The results on Monday showed that this second test had come in positive for mad cow disease.
European Union officials, who have been trying to assess the degree of risk in non-member countries to ensure the disease is not reimported into the 15-nation bloc, gave Japan a high risk rating earlier this year because in the past it had imported live cattle as well as suspicious bonemeal, including from Britain.
Agriculture ministry officials say Japan has no record of live cattle being imported from any countries where there has been an outbreak of BSE.
Scientists believe BSE is transmitted through infected meat-and- bone meal fed to cattle and that it may cause the brain-wasting new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) in humans, which has killed around 100 people in Britain).
Japan started in April to check for BSE in cattle that showed abnormal symptoms before they died.
The incubation period for mad cow disease is believed to be between two and eight years after infection.
Nagamura noted that after the outbreak of mad cow disease in Europe last year, Japan had banned imports of meat and processed products of cattle from 17 European nations early this year.
Grain traders were alarmed by the farm ministry's announcement.
"Even if the suspected case came from a dairy cow, dairy cows are used for processed beef products, such as corned beef, after being slaughtered," one trader said.
"Japanese consumers are increasingly conscious about food safety and this suspected mad cow case in Japan will hurt confidence in the safety of beef, both Japanese and imported beef," he added.
The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in June that Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East were particularly at risk from mad cow disease because they imported large quantities of meat-based animal feed from western Europe.
Japanese agriculture officials have said the risk of a BSE breakout in Japan was very small because most of the bonemeal it imported was used as fertiliser.
But a spokesman for the European Commission's Tokyo office said in June that the Japanese government had blocked the publication of a European Commission report that said mad cow disease could theoretically break out in Japan.
Using Japanese government data, EU scientists had given Japan a risk-rating of three on a rising scale of one to four. They have judged Australia and the United States, by contrast, to be free of any risk of BSE.
Mad cow disease is believed to have spread from Britain to other parts of Europe when the remains of contaminated cattle were ground up for use in livestock feed.


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