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From: TSS ()
Subject: Beef-safety report being misused: panelist
Date: December 12, 2005 at 8:39 am PST

Beef-safety report being misused: panelist

Staff writer

The key messages in Thursday's report by the Food Safety Commission's prion committee have been misinterpreted by the media and the government, and the panel itself was used to serve political ends, the panel's deputy chairman declared Thursday.

Kiyotoshi Kaneko

In an interview with The Japan Times, Kiyotoshi Kaneko described his time on the panel assessing the risk of mad cow disease in North American beef as being "filled with a sense of helplessness."

Kaneko, professor and chairman of Tokyo Medical University's second department of physiology, helped draft the report that was finalized Thursday. The report states that the difference in mad cow disease risks posed by North American and Japanese beef is minimal, given certain conditions.

The report has thus been widely interpreted as a green light for lifting Japan's two-year ban on U.S. beef.

But Kaneko insisted: "The report does not recommend the resumption of U.S. beef imports. To say so is incorrect.

"The fact is that the renewal of beef imports was a diplomatic decision, made for us months in advance."

Kaneko said he fought tooth and nail for a clause in the Food Safety Commission's report stating that it is unclear whether the U.S. and Canada will be able to take adequate measures to minimize the risk of mad cow disease.

The clause is in the report, but Kaneko said it has been largely ignored in the coverage of the report's release.

"Regardless of the contents, Japan was ready to import beef," Kaneko said.

The report says the mad cow disease panel had to base its findings on the assumption that the U.S. would take measures to ascertain the precise age of slaughtered cattle and ensure that no high-risk parts would be included among imports.

The prion committee's job was problematic, Kaneko said, because it was given specific questions from the health and agriculture ministries. Namely, it was asked what the risk of mad cow disease would be if the U.S. were to only export beef from cows aged under 21 months, with high-risk parts removed.

"Answering only the questions the government gave us would mislead the public," Kaneko said. "That's not science."

He added that he does not intend to serve on any similar government committees again.

Debate over the past two years has left the public with the distinct impression that trade concerns override worries about food safety, he said.

That would be fine if the government had been up front about prioritizing trade concerns, explained why it thought trade was more important than food safety, and made it mandatory to label all beef with its country of origin, he stressed.

"When you lose people's trust, you've already failed at communicating risks. It's then your responsibility to regain that trust," Kaneko said, noting it will take years.

"The report is only a starting point. It's up to the Japanese government and ultimately the consumers to judge whether these conditions are being met."

The Japan Times: Dec. 9, 2005
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