Japan to slaughter, burn 5,100 cattle to calm fears

November 23, 2001 Toronto Star by Kenji Hall
With a second confirmed case of mad cow disease, Japan said yesterday it will slaughter and incinerate 5,100 cows that may have been fed ground animal parts.

The agriculture ministry could begin the measures nationwide as early as next week, said Satoshi Maema, a ministry official at its animal health division.

Japanese officials have been struggling to prevent the fatal brain-wasting disease from spreading since the first case, in a 5-year-old dairy cow, was discovered in September. A second Holstein was identified Wednesday as having contracted the disease on the northern island of Hokkaido and Japanese health authorities admitted yesterday more cases may emerge. Investigators suspect the animals contracted the disease by eating animal feed contaminated with diseased beef parts. After the first case was confirmed, health authorities banned import and use of feed made from meat-and-bone meal and began mandatory inspections of beef before it's sold.

The government has asked the nation's food manufacturers to recall some products made with beef extract.

But this is the first time officials will resort to the more drastic step of slaughtering entire cattle herds - a step that may help check consumer fears of a full-blown mad cow epidemic.

Jittery consumers have avoided beef, despite government assurances that beef from cattle raised in Japan was safe to eat. Domestic meat sales remain depressed, and butchers and beef restaurants are likely to continue to face difficult times.

Mad cow disease - bovine spongiform encephalopathy - is believed to spread by feeding ground-up meat and bones from infected animals to cattle. The illness running through Europe's cattle industry is thought to cause the fatal new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans who eat infected meat.

More than 100 people have died of nvCJD, nearly all of them in Britain. The worst of the epidemic was there and led many European states to ban British beef exports. It entailed mass destruction of cattle herds and a tourism decline in the British countryside.

In Japan, nvCJD has led to lawsuits. Relatives of three patients with the disease and 25 others who died of it have sued the government for $23.6 million (U.S.) in damages.

They say their loved ones were infected by surgically implanted dura mater - the outermost membrane covering the brain and spinal cord - imported from Germany and that the government approved use of the tainted brain tissue even after U.S. health authorities warned in 1987 that it could be linked to the disease.

Yesterday, Japanese Health Minister Chikara Sakaguchi said he decided to settle the suits, after two district courts concluded last week the government was partly to blame.

Tokyo District Court is to rule on the cases by March, 2002, if no deal is reached.

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