First case of mad cow disease found in Japan

First case of mad cow disease found in Japan

September 10, 2001 Agence France Presse
Japan's first case of mad cow disease has been reported in the Chiba area east of Tokyo, the agriculture ministry said Monday.

A five year old cow from a dairy herd which had displayed difficulty in standing tested positive for mad cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the ministry said in a statement.

"On August 6, one five-year-old milking cow was slaughtered at the abattoir which showed difficulty in standing," the ministry said. "We examined the brain at the national animal health research institute and according to the results, we confirmed August 15 it was negative, but later on, we carried out brain tissue tests in which we found holes in the tissue of the brain.

"The sample was delivered to the institute again, and the institute confirmed the presence of the holes, and then we confirmed signs of (BSE) positive on September 10 through another test," the statement said.

The statement said the ministry would decided on Tuesday whether it needed final confirmation of its test results at an international institute of reference.

"I am told that this will be the first case in Japan, if confirmed," said Takahiro Fuse, an official from Chiba prefectural government.

The farm ministry said it had ordered the farmer to quarantine the rest of his herd of cows and it will carry out an investigation to establish where the cow came from as well as the kinds of feed used in order to try and track down the source of the infection.

Mad cow disease is a brain-wasting illness which has been linked to the fatal variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans.

Japan's health ministry announced last month it would examine 10,000 domestic cattle next year to ensure the country remained BSE-free.

The ministry plans to secure 370 million yen (3.1 million dollars) from next year's budget to March 2003 to fund the mad cow test across Japan.

The 10,000 cows ear-marked for testing are already ill with movement disorders or some kind of neurological symptom and are part of some 1.3 million cattle slaughtered every year in Japan, according to health ministry officials.

Currently, Japan examines just 100 cows yearly to test for the disease.

"It was thought that there was a possibility that mad cow disease had arrived," in Japan, since animal feed had been imported from Britain, a European expert in agricultural affairs based in Tokyo told AFP.

"You could say that they (the Japanese) were not looking with any great conviction up to now."

In January, Japan banned the import of beef and processed beef products from 18 countries, including those in the European Union, to prevent mad cow disease from entering Japan.

While Tokyo stopped importing animal feed in 1996 from Britain, where the disease was first identified, some argue Japan may face the risk of mad cow disease because the length of incubation in a cow is around five-and-a-half years.

In June a diplomat from the European Commission's Tokyo delegation told AFP that Tokyo was pressuring Brussels to block publication of an alarming evaluation report on the risk of BSE in Japan

The report by the Scientific Steering Committee, which is in charge of nutritional safety in the European Union (EU), evaluated the risk-level of mad cow disease in Japan as three on a scale of one to four according to sources close to the SSC, but the report has yet to materialise.

The higher the grade, the greater the chance of BSE having already contaminated the food chain.

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