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From: TSS ()
Subject: Japan ends blanket testing for mad-cow disease Local governments have said, however, that they plan to continue testing all cattle
Date: August 1, 2005 at 7:43 am PST

Japan ends blanket testing for mad-cow disease
01 Aug 2005 11:57:28 GMT

Source: Reuters

(Adds Japan PM's meeting with U.S. lawmakers)

By Miho Yoshikawa

TOKYO, Aug 1 (Reuters) - Japan dropped its policy of testing all cattle for the deadly mad cow disease on Monday and will require checks to be conducted only on cattle that are 21 months or older.

However, blanket testing will in effect continue in Japan as all local governments have decided to keep checking all cattle born in their region, a Health Ministry official said.

"Testing will now only be mandatory for cattle aged 21 months or older," the official said.

Under pressure from the United States, the Japanese government decided in early May to ease its policy of blanket testing after the move was approved by the country's food safety watchdog, the Food Safety Commission (FSC).

Monday marks the start of the new safety guideline after the completion of a series of moves needed to revise the law.

Local governments have said, however, that they plan to continue testing all cattle to reassure consumers about the safety of their beef.

"As it now stands, all local governments will continue to test all the cattle in their area," the ministry official said.

The checks will be fully subsidised by the central government for a maximum of three years, he said.

Experts believe that younger animals have a lower risk of developing the brain-wasting disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

Japan began checking all its cattle for BSE in October 2001 after it discovered its own case of mad cow disease, to reassure Japanese consumers of the safety of domestic beef and revive beef sales which had plunged.

Mandatory testing, however, became a major sticking point in talks between Tokyo and Washington on resumption of beef trade, which was suspended after the United States reported its first case of mad cow disease in December 2003.

Tokyo had initially said that all meat bound for Japan must come from cattle that had been checked for mad cow disease, in line with domestic safety guidelines.

Japan eventually agreed to lower its own safety threshold, a move that was opposed by many health-conscious consumers who believe that a blanket test has helped keep beef safe.

After months of talks, Tokyo has agreed to resume some beef trade, but no timetable has been set for the easing of the 19-month ban, which rests on the FSC's review of U.S. food safeguards.


Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi avoided giving a clear answer on the issue in a meeting on Monday with a group of visiting U.S. congressmen, Kyodo news agency said.

Congressmen Adam Putnam and Tom Cole -- both Republicans and members of a delegation led by House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert -- urged Japan to resume U.S. beef imports at an early date in the meeting with Koizumi, Kyodo said.

Koizumi simply said that ensuring food safety for consumers was vital and that his administration was making efforts to that end, Kyodo quoted Foreign Ministry officials as saying.

The Japanese government says beef trade cannot resume until the FSC declares that U.S. beef is safe.

The FSC held its fourth risk assessment meeting on Monday, and further talks are due to take place.

Health-conscious Japanese consumers are sensitive to reports about BSE because of a human variant of the disease that is believed to be contracted by eating contaminated beef.

Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), the human version of BSE, has caused more than 140 deaths worldwide, including one person in Japan.

Before the ban, Japan was the top U.S. export market for beef, buying about $1.4 billion a year.

Last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it was retesting a cow that was suspected of having BSE which, if confirmed, would be the third case reported in the United States.

The results are expected early this week.

Tokyo has said that it expects the United States to discover new cases of mad cow disease as it steps up testing but that would not cause Japan to change its decision to re-open its borders to American beef. (Additional reporting by Masayuki Kitano)


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