Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Japan officially bans imports over U.S. mad cow disease case

TOKYO — The health ministry officially banned imports of U.S. beef and beef-processed products Friday after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Thursday that a British laboratory confirmed initial U.S. test results indicating the first U.S. case of mad cow disease.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare notified the quarantine stations across Japan of the decision. On Wednesday, Tokyo halted imports of beef products after the USDA revealed the discovery of the case in Washington State. (Kyodo News)

I remember when Japan was first warned that we may have a BSE risk. I read about it in the Japan Times but didn't see any of the Japanese media covering it. Several months later, the first case in Japan was discovered. The country went into a panic, the government coverup machine went into overdrive but the issue punched through layer one. The had to act like they were going to do something about it. They implemented nationwide testing and tracked of the cows.

The meat packing industry is one of the most "organized" industries in Japan. I'm sorry, but I have absolutely no faith in the Japanese government's claim that they have checked all of the cows. The Japanese are claiming that since they check all of the cows, Japan is the safest in the world. The Japanese bureaucracy has rarely shown itself to be trustworthy on self-regulatory issues. For instance, the health ministry has been under investigation for some sort of ethical issue almost continuously ever since I was born.

I saw one ripple in the fabric when talking to a source I can not reveal here. Although they are supposed to tag and track all of the cows that are born and shipped around Japan, in fact the networks are prefectural and do not track the cows as they cross prefectures. When said acquaintance complained about the ineffectiveness of such a system, he was told to look the other way and move on. They said that it was a "dangerous area" he was treading in. I have no idea whether they fixed this system, but I doubt it.

So please excuse me if I laugh when the health ministry so proudly claims that Japan's beef is safer than American beef because of all of the effort they have put into this.

danah has a good rant in response to Cory's thoughts on technologists that create technologies which cause awkward social situations.
danah boyd
So, in fleshing out Cory's call to technologists, i'd ask all technologists to consider not only what problems a technology solves, but what new ones could emerge. Start thinking like a writer or an abuser of technology. Imagine how people could misuse a technology to hurt others. Consider who gains and loses power from such technology. It's a fascinating exercise and far more fulfilling than just thinking about who benefits from something. And besides, then you won't always be thinking "but the users shouldn't do THAT with this technology."
I commented on her blog.
Joi Ito
I agree with your point danah. On the other hand, a lot of the consequences of technology are not predictable and emerge as the technology develops and is adopted widely. I think that in addition to trying to have a vision about the negative effects of technology (which I agree is important) and trying to design around the issues, I think that identifying tensions as they arise and providing feedback to the toolbuilders is important. One of the problem of commercial enterprise is that technologists are often forced to sweep these tensions or problems under the carpet for the better good of profits or commercial interests. Also the cost of changing a design or an architecture often makes such change difficult. I think designing systems to assume they will need to be changed is important. This does get difficult as technologies mature. This is why I think the social software / blog space is interesting. We can still change a lot of the basic architecture of this space. So although I agree it is important to call our to technologists to think, I think that the dialog between technologists and people like you and Cory is more important.
In response to my thoughts on people inadvertently collapsing context because of a lack of understanding of the technology, Wendy Seltzer blogs about Technology and Norms of Publicity.
Wendy Seltzer
I wondered at first if privacy tensions would ease as more people became more technically sophisticated, but I'm inclined to think that gaps in understanding will just move with the tech, and social norms will follow still further behind.
When I am posting a photo album, I think about the situation, the people and decide whether to post a picture, ask permission or not even bother. I'm making a very deliberate decision based on my understanding of the technology and the social norms. The technology and the norms are evolving and the understanding of both is spotty. We WILL have tensions. I guess the key is to identify the critical irreversible risks and work just as hard in developing social norms as we are in developing technical solutions.
Justin's post from his Christmas in Japan last year describes the Japanese Christmas experience well. Here is my entry about brining, which is the key to the turkey he talks about. As I was opining to MG the other day, it's all in the bringing. MUST brine the turkey. Innovations in cooking are much more interesting than any of this social software stuff. {{gobble}} {{gobble}}

Welcome to our world Esther. Sorry it's not in very good shape. Hope to get around to fixing it up a bit more before we pass it on to you.

Congratulations Kevin!

Delicious is a social bookmarks manager. It is still pre-pre-alpha, but it's already become quite a useful part of my daily routine. You bookmark sites as you surf and you can subscribe to bookmarks of your friends and receive them as RSS feeds. It all started during a rare productive discussion between tangra and _joshua on #joiito. The two of them came up with the idea and _joshua coded it.

_joshua is aka Joshua Schachter and is also the developer of memepool and GeoURL.

If you want to subscribe to my bookmarks, I'm joi_ito on Delicious.