Govt urged to buy, destroy suspect beef

October 17, 2001 The Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo)
An ad hoc Liberal Democratic Party panel demanded Tuesday that the government buy up all beef dressed and shipped to retailers before Thursday's planned launch of across-the-board testing of the nation's meat cattle for the abnormal prions that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, LDP officials said.

Members of the LDP panel for counter-BSE policy, headed by House of Representatives member Hisao Horinouchi, urged senior officials of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry who were present at its meeting Tuesday to consider the buy-up alternative, the officials said.

"While no cattle suspected (of BSE-infection) will be shipped out (to the consumer market) after Thursday, I think (the government) should purchase the whole stock of beef (prepared and shipped to retailers before then)," former Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Senior Vice Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka said. Matsuoka's opinion was seconded by other panel members as evidenced in the remarks of one who said, "The purchase (of the whole stock) will be imperative so that the government's plan for Thursday, to declare all beef on the market to be safe (and free from BSE-infection), will be true in a practical sense."

The LDP panel has estimated that the volume of all beef prepared for shipment or already on display in shops totals about 13,000 tons nationwide, and the cost of buying up the whole stock would range from 10 billion yen to 20 billion yen, the officials said.

According to the agriculture ministry, officials pondered the idea of purchasing and holding part of the beef stock on a provisional basis to prevent market prices from plunging, on the assumption that the stock, withheld from shipment, would be supplied to the consumer market all at once after the planned across-the-board testing.

However, the officials had not considered buying up all the stock for the purpose of destroying it to prevent from reaching consumers, they said.

In response to the LDP panel's demand, the ministry would "study methods" in line with the demand, Yoshio Kobayashi, head of the ministry's production bureau, said.

However, some ministry officials have already expressed negative views. "It will probably be difficult, not only because approval of the government's financial authorities will be needed, but also because time is limited," one of them was quoted as saying.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Senior Vice Minister Takehiko Endo also stopped short of promising to comply with the demand.

"I've only instructed officials in charge to collect information (for instance, how much beef is kept in stock by retailers)," Endo said.

The idea of purchasing the whole stock also was a subject of discussion at a meeting of the LDP's General Council held Tuesday.

One of the council members called for emergency safeguard measures on the part of the government. "Because consumers have no way of knowing if the beef in stock is safe, the issue (of purchasing the beef) shouldn't be studied in terms of monetary value," he was quoted as saying.

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