Japan May Slaughter 5,000 Cows
For Mad Cow Checks
By Jae Hur

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's farm ministry said on Thursday it may slaughter all of the 5,000-some cows that had been fed meat-and-bone meal (MBM), a day after a second case of mad cow disease was found in Japan.
Japan in early October banned all MBM imports and the use of MBM as feed because infected meal was suspected to be the source of the disease in Japan and elsewhere.
Both cows found with the disease so far had been born before Japan placed a ban on imports from Europe early this year. The ban was imposed on imports from Britain in March 1996.
After the first case of the brain-wasting disease was found in September on a farm in Chiba, near Tokyo, the Health Ministry has been carrying out tests of slaughtered meat.
But this would be the first time for Japan to unconditionally slaughter cows meant for consumption, to be tested for the disease and later incinerated.
Japan has 4.5 million cows, including dairy cows.
"We haven't decided on this," an agriculture ministry official said. "The decision is expected to be made next week."
On Wednesday, the Health Ministry said a five-year-old Holstein dairy cow in the northern island of Hokkaido had tested positive for mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
It was the second case of the disease in Japan after a Holstein in Chiba tested positive on September 10 in Asia's first outbreak of the disease, deepening a health scare that has already turned consumers away from beef.
The Hokkaido prefectural government on Thursday launched an investigation into the second case and asked the dairy farmer who had raised the infected cow not to move his other 77 cattle, a Hokkaido government official said.
The second cow was born in the town of Sarufutsu in northern Hokkaido, about 200 kilometers from Saroma in northwestern Hokkaido, where the Chiba cow in the first case was born. The two cows were born nine days apart, in spring of 1996.
Given the closeness of birth dates and places, the farm ministry hopes that the route of infection may be traceable by checking used feed and nutritional supplements. The ministry has not figured out the source and route of the first case.
The mad cow scare has swept the world's second-largest economy, slashing beef sales by more than 50 percent and shaking the farm and food industries. Meat-eaters in Japan turned their eyes to alternatives such as pork, chicken and fish.
Experts said it may take years before confidence in beef recovers in Japan.
Shares in Japan's meat processors and restaurant chains had tumbled since the September outbreak, driving several to cut sales and profit estimates for this year.
Consumers have so far largely ignored government assurances that Japanese beef is safe for consumption, alarming Japan's top meat suppliers, the United States and Australia.
No one has died or fallen sick since Japan's first case was reported.
Scientists believe that eating beef infected with BSE can cause a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), a fatal brain affliction. In Europe, vCJD has killed about 100 people.
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