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Editorial: Officials must act to regain lost trust

October 7, 2001 The Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo)
How difficult it is to regain trust once it has been lost!

Public officials who have repeatedly committed errors in dealing with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as mad cow disease, must keenly realize this.

After much delay, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry finally imposed a blanket ban on the use of meat and bone meal (MBM) feed, which is believed to be the source of infection of mad cow disease.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry also decided to move forward the examination of all cattle taken to slaughterhouses, starting on Oct. 18. Moreover, it has instructed food processors to stop using raw materials made with such cattle parts as the brain and bone marrow, which are believed most likely to spread the disease, and to recall food products made from those materials.

With the ban and ministerial directive in place, Japan finally has a system as severe as that of the European Union.

Ministries forced to take action

The number of consumers refraining from eating beef has increased rapidly, and lawmakers representing the interests of the livestock industry have called for a declaration of safety on beef consumption.

However, it is still too early to issue such a declaration.

It was consumer organizations and the general public that drove the two ministries to put stricter regulations in place to prevent the spread of mad cow disease. Initially the ministries were reluctant to do so out of concern for the affected industries.

As long as public officials do not carefully and honestly examine their conventional attitudes, consumers' concerns over food safety will not be quelled.

The route of infection, which is crucial for checking the spread of the disease, remains unknown.

The livestock industry and food manufacturers are increasingly bewildered by the repeated changes in the ministries' policies to deal with mad cow disease.

The disposal of a huge amount of MBM, which has become waste, is a serious issue that must be addressed.

The government and industries concerned should join forces in doing their best to regain public trust.

It is also essential to provide accurate information to consumers.

Cattle brains and bone marrow are believed most likely to carry the disease, but milk and ordinary beef are safe.

Consumers also have to calmly deal with the problem.

There are three basic measures to be taken in dealing with the disease: MBM, which can become a source of infection, should not be given to cattle; only safe meat should be sold on the market; and a strict examination and distribution system should be established.

British lesson ignored

Britain, which most recently suffered a disastrous outbreak of mad cow disease, failed to take proper measures in dealing with the disease. EU countries also failed to prevent the disease from spreading.

Japan should have drawn a lesson from Britain and the EU countries, but Japan was too confident that its cattle were safe, deeming it unnecessary to take any measure.

Even after the mad cow disease case was discovered recently in Chiba Prefecture, the government merely took cosmetic measures on the grounds that only one cow was infected.

We must point out that the government's lack of a sense of crisis is more pronounced than that of the EU authorities.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry had said that cattle in this country were safe because it issued a directive in 1996 to ban the use of MBM.

However, 8,000 cattle were found to have been fed with MBM made for poultry and pigs, illustrating that the directive was not properly enforced.

Had the ministry adopted drastic measures in the first place to keep the disease in check, the anxiety of consumers over food safety and the livestock industry's confusion could have been kept to a much lower level.

In Germany, two Cabinet members resigned to take responsibility for their failure to take proper measures in dealing with mad cow disease.

Shouldn't we shed light on who should be held accountable for igniting consumers' distrust before a declaration of safety is issued?


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