Japan Confirms 5th Case
of Mad Cow Disease

By Tim Large

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan confirmed another case of mad cow disease on Thursday, the first since May and the fifth since an outbreak last September sent shock waves through the food sector and devastated consumer confidence.
Final tests on a six-year-old Holstein dairy cow slaughtered in Kanagawa prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, came up positive for the brain-wasting disease, a Health Ministry official said.
The ministry will hold a meeting of animal-health experts at 0800 GMT on Friday to review the results for official confirmation.
Formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), mad cow disease has been linked in humans to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which has killed about 125 people worldwide but none in Japan.
The outbreak -- the first in Asia -- has gutted Japan's appetite for beef, hammered earnings of food companies and restaurants and shaken faith in the country's food-safety standards.
In April, the Farm Ministry estimated the total industry-wide damage of BSE at up to 380 billion yen ($3.21 billion).
Since October, Japan has screened all cows slaughtered for beef for the disease.
The Health Ministry said about one million cows had been screened for BSE between October 18, 2001, and August 17, of which 95 came up positive in the preliminary results.
The timing of the latest case could hardly be worse, following a string of meat-mislabeling scandals that have taken an extra bite out of consumer confidence.
Cattle are believed to contract mad cow disease by eating meat-and-bone meal (MBM) contaminated with BSE, but officials have not pinned down the source of the outbreak in Japan.
It was not known whether the cow in the latest case, born in December 1995 and raised alongside about 50 head of cattle, had been fed MBM.
"We are still not clear about the whole BSE picture," Satoshi Takaya, head of the Health Ministry's food-safety monitoring division, told reporters.
An investigating panel earlier this year slammed the government for ignoring warnings from both the World Health Organization and the European Commission that could have prevented the crisis.
With reporting by Aya Takada
($1=118.46 Yen)
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