Mad Cow Risk Forces Hunt for Japanese Cows in US

October 1, 2001 Reuters by Randy Fabi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - US Agriculture Department officials said on Monday they were trying to track down and quarantine almost 240 live cattle imported from Japan before Tokyo confirmed its first case of deadly mad cow disease last month.

Japanese cattle are famous for high-premium beef products, such as fatty, marbled Kobe and Matsuzaka beef, popular in upscale restaurants.

On Sept. 22, Japan confirmed that a 5-year-old dairy cow had tested positive for mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE ), on a farm in the Chiba area near Tokyo.

Japan's government declined to comment on Monday on published reports that three more cows showed symptoms of the disease.

Ed Curlette, spokesman for USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the department was investigating the whereabouts of 237 live cattle shipped to the US from Japan between 1990 and 1999. It is not known whether these cattle might have been exposed to mad cow disease by eating infected meat and bone meal.

Chuck Lambert, economist for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association , said the majority of the Japanese cattle were ''high-valued stock'' brought into the country to cross breed with US livestock in order to improve the genetic makeup of some herds.

Lambert said the Japanese cattle currently in the US posed little danger to US agriculture because the animals were not meant for human consumption.

Still, Lambert said, the USDA should ``locate (the Japanese cattle), buy them and depopulate them.''

Scientists believe mad cow disease spreads among cattle when the spinal cord and brains of diseased livestock are ground up for use in animal feed. The US has banned such livestock feed since 1997.

The human version of the brain-wasting disease--variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease --which is transmitted by infected meat and bone meal, is believed to have killed around 100 people in Europe.

No case of mad cow disease has ever been found in the US.

The USDA has prohibited live cattle and most beef products from Japan for more than a year because of separate concerns about foot-and-mouth disease.

Last month, the US extended that ban to include all Japanese processed beef products, since scientists believe mad cow disease can spread even after cooking and processing at high temperatures.

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