May 13, 2002 Agence France Presse by Shigemi SatoJapan's mad cow scare took a tragic twist Monday when it was revealed that a health official had committed suicide after helping detect the country's fourth case of the brain-wasting disease.
The suicide was announced by the prefectural government of Hokkaido, where a government-appointed panel of experts on Monday confirmed a fourth cow had been infected.
"An official meat inspector has committed suicide after the cow examined by the official was found to be the fourth case of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy)," said Saburo Tobita of Hokkaido's food sanitation division. A prefectural government personnel official confirmed the dead inspector was a 29-year-old woman, but declined to identify her.
An investigation is under way to find out if the suicide on Sunday is linked to the BSE inspection.
Japan in September became the only country in Asia known to harbour mad cow disease, triggering a health scare which has decimated beef consumption and exports.
Japan has tested all cows slaughtered for beef since October for the disease. Two more cases were found in November.
The latest was a 73-month-old Holstein, which was slaughtered on Friday in Obihiro on the northern main island of Hokkaido, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said in a statement.
The cow had had difficulty walking, a symptom of BSE, and was diagnosed as suffering neuroparalysis to its left foreleg, according to press reports.
It tested positive for BSE at the local veterinary college in Obihiro on Saturday.
All four of Japan's infected cows were female Holstein cows born in March or April of 1996. Three of them were born on Hokkaido and the other was born in a dairy farm in Gunma prefecture, north of Tokyo.
The government suspects the cows were infected by eating cattle feed containing meat and bonemeal from contaminated animals.
Experts believe eating BSE-infected beef can cause a fatal brain-wasting disorder known as new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, which has claimed at least 103 lives in Britain and four in France.
Mad cow disease was first identified in cattle in Britain in 1986. It is believed to have been first transmitted to humans around 1996.