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From: TSS ()
Subject: Onus on Japan to ensure U.S. beef safety, report says
Date: October 31, 2005 at 5:24 pm PST

Onus on Japan to ensure U.S. beef safety, report says

Staff writer

A food safety panel on Monday adopted a draft report that, once finalized, will pave the way to ending the two-year-old ban on imports of U.S. and Canadian beef.
The government panel said in the report that it is unclear whether the U.S. will be able to take adequate measures to minimize the risk of mad cow disease, whose discovery in the U.S. triggered the ban.

"It is difficult for us to assess the risk of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in the U.S. and Canada, given the numerous unclear points in the quality and quantity of data, and given the fact that we must assume strict adherence to (preventive) measures," says the report compiled by the Food Safety Commission's panel on mad cow disease.

But regardless of its contents, the completion of the report effectively moves the procedure for lifting Japan's 20-month-long ban on U.S. beef a step forward.

The draft, compiled by a research group under the commission, says beef and beef offal from U.S. and Canadian cattle aged up to 20 months pose a "very low" risk if materials that could transmit mad cow disease are properly removed and the Japanese government takes responsibility for strict compliance with the conditions.

The panel's findings will now be subject to a monthlong public hearing before the commission finalizes the report.

After a go-ahead from the commission, officials of the agriculture and health ministries will make a decision as to the safety of U.S. beef.

Foreign Ministry officials, on the front line of pressure from the U.S. to lift the ban, hope for a renewal of imports of beef and beef offal from U.S. and Canadian cattle aged up to 20 months by year's end.

The panel leaves the key decision on whether to lift the ban on U.S. beef firmly in the government's hands.

If all high-risk parts, such as spines, eyes, brains and heads are removed from U.S. beef, and the beef imports are restricted to those from cattle 20 months or younger, the difference between the risk from eating U.S. beef and Japanese beef would be extremely small, the report says.

"It is the responsibility of the (government) to make sure these conditions are adhered to," it says.

If the government decides to lift the ban on U.S. beef, it must report its conclusions to the BSE panel as well as to the public, the report says.

"We are not equipped to judge whether these assumptions are true or not," panel member Kiyotoshi Kaneko said. "In that sense, I do not think our report -- which is a scientific assessment of risk -- answers the concerns of consumers."

The ban on U.S. beef was put in place after a single instance of mad cow was discovered in the U.S. in December 2003. The U.S. has called the ban excessive, and has threatened economic sanctions on Japan in retaliation.

Mariko Toya, a homemaker in her 30s from Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, who regularly attended the panel meetings, said she remains convinced that U.S. beef is unsafe.

"Reports showed meat and bone meal made up 30 percent of poultry litter (mixed in cattle feed until its ban by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year). We just don't know what we, or cattle, are eating," she said.

Tainted bovine meat and bone meal has been linked with the disease.

"I don't cook beef anymore," she said.

The commission has acted as a buffer for Japanese politicians caught between the U.S. grain-belt politicians and Japanese farmers and food safety activists. The U.S. have called Japan's ban on U.S. beef unscientific.

The Japan Times: Nov. 1, 2005
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