Japan finds possible new type of mad cow disease
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Japan finds possible new type of mad cow disease

October 8, 2003 Financial Times (London,England) By JOHN MASON and BAYAN RAHMAN
Japanese scientists launched an investigation yesterday into a possible new strain of BSE, or "mad cow disease", after a bullock was discovered to have contracted the fatal illness.

Scientists, farming and food experts met last night to investigate the case and discuss measures to curb the spread of the disease.

A confirmed new strain of mad cow disease would be a setback for Japan's cattle and beef industries, which have struggled to win public confidence after the first case was discovered in Japan two years ago.

The case differs from previous incidents of bovine spongiform encephalopathy because tests on the animal showed that prions, the self- replicating protein that cause the disease, were arranged in different patterns from past cases.

The bullock was also only 23 months old, making it the second-youngest animal to have contracted the disease. Also, while initial tests concluded that the animal had fallen victim to BSE, secondary tests all proved negative.

The bullock was born one month after Japan banned the use of meat-and-bone meal, which is regarded as the main route of infection. It is Japan's eighth recorded case of BSE.

Chikara Sakaguchi, health minister, said: "The commonly held view is that young cows are not infected (with BSE) but this has proved otherwise. We want to examine whether our current screening system can catch this new type of BSE."

The case is being followed in other countries, notably Britain where the disease first appeared. The UK ministry of agriculture said: "We are watching this with interest but need more information before commenting."

In a recent similar case in Britain involving sheep, scientists are still trying to explain unusual prions that were discovered.

BSE was first diagnosed in Britain in 1986 and has since been discovered in several European countries.

Japan became the first country outside Europe to have the disease, which has now also been discovered in Canada.

The discovery of BSE in a 23-month-old animal could cause widespread concern. In the UK, tests are performed only on animals 24 months or older.

However, the removal from the food chain of high-risk body material such as brains and nerve tissue is believed to have cut most of the risk of the infection being passed on.

This latest case of BSE in Japan is likely to bolster Tokyo's contention that all Canadian cattle should be tested for BSE before Japan resumes beef imports from Canada.

It could also have repercussions in countries where BSE has recently been found, such as Canada, as well as in countries such as the UK, where the disease is thought to be under control.

About 150 people worldwide have died from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is linked to BSE.


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