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From: TSS ()
Subject: Ministry: End BSE tests on young cows
Date: September 12, 2007 at 1:16 pm PST

Ministry: End BSE tests on young cows


The health ministry has called on all prefectural and municipal governments--without exception--to end mad cow disease tests of cattle under 21 months next July, sources said.

The directive came after nine prefectural governments said in an Asahi Shimbun survey they intended to continue the tests even after the central government stops funding them next July.

In the survey, conducted two months ago, the governments said they want to continue testing to allay safety concerns and to meet the requests of consumers.

In a notice dated Aug. 31, however, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said, "It is important that (all the prefectural and municipal governments) end their inspections at the end of July 2008, across the board."

It also said, "It would cause chaos among producers and distributors as well as concern among consumers if the approach of individual governments toward the tests varies from one to another."

Tatsuya Kakita, an expert on food labeling and a representative of the Yokohama-based research institute on consumer issues, criticized the ministry's instruction, saying it was aimed at limiting the choice of consumers.

"The government's notice constitutes a serious problem because it deprives consumers of a choice," he said. "Producers are free to offer information on the tests in labels to raise the added value of their products.

"No law restricts information, such as the mentioning of the all-cattle tests--something that helps consumers choose."

The ministry plans to terminate its funding of the entire cost of the tests of cattle aged 20 months or younger for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.

The ministry said that if the beef of some districts are marketed with a label mentioning the all-cattle tests, it will give the impression that beef from other districts are not as safe.

The inspection of all cattle started in 2001, when Japan's first case of mad cow disease was reported.

Ministry officials moved to withdraw the funding for inspections of cattle not older than 20 months after the Cabinet Office's Food Safety Commission concluded in 2005 that "risks posed by cattle 20 months old or younger are low."

But due to the persistent fears among consumers over the safety of beef, the ministry continued to cover the test costs on condition that the funding would end after three years.

In fiscal 2006, subsidies to cover the checks of the cattle were provided to all prefectures, except Fukui, as well as major cities.

Of the 1.6 billion yen in subsidies set aside for the cattle industry in fiscal 2007, the government is expected to spend 200 million yen on the tests of the young cattle.

In the Asahi Shimbun survey, nine prefectures, including Kanagawa, Hyogo, Wakayama and Miyazaki, said they will continue the tests of all cattle beyond July next year.

But officials with the health ministry's Inspection and Safety Division called the continued checks on cattle not older than 20 months as a step "close to the waste of taxpayers' money." It said that there had been no cows in this age group suspected of having the infection.

An official with the Hokkaido government said, "The central government should make an effort to assure the general public that beef is safe before it ends the inspections."(IHT/Asahi: September 12,2007)


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