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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.


I was living in Tokyo in '89 when the Loma Prieta quake hit the San Francisco area. This was shortly after a Tokai Bank analysis pointed out the catastrophic effects that a big quake in Tokyo would have, and also that Tokyo was "past due" for a catastrophic quake.

About 26 people died as a result of that quake. I remember the reaction of Tokyo officials was almost smug--that when the next big one hits Tokyo, they'd be much better prepared. I was offended, and (looking at the quality of housing stock around me) incredulous).

Then in '95 came the disastrous Hanshin quake.

One of my friends did the analysis of the SF earthquake and then later of the Hanshin quake. There are many things that are not "open" but the extent disaster in Japan was hugely due to government incompetence. If you noticed, the houses were generally burned to white ash, not black ash. That means that there were no attempts made to douse those fires. I heard that because of government contracting to different vendors and poor standardization, many of the hoses from the fire truck did no connect properly and were unable to function. There is also the more publicized inability to scramble choppers because of procedural red tape. It's really embarrassing. In particular, the inability to admit our problems and mocking the US is really stupid.

Well said Joi.

The more you read about the whole range of "Mad Cow" type dieases, the scarier it is.
The *say* that cows can only get BSE from eating feed that contains brain and spinal cord material, yet the variant that occurs in deer and elk, CWD, runs rampant when these animals live in the wild and, I would guess, don't generally eat eachother's brains. Scrapie, the sheep variant, has been shown to spread when uninfected animals are allowed to graze on land that, years before, had infected animals.
Prions are scary things - they're not alive, so they can't be killed - destroying them typically destroys whatever they're in. They can survive incineration or years of burial.

Is Japan safe from BSE? No, probably not, especially when the meat industry is intent on doing the bare minimum to protect consumers and doing all they can to protect their profits.
I've been blogging about this a bit and may start a dedicated blog on the subject:
A good primer on BSE and prions:

So, Joi - You giving up beef?

Although not tracking the animals from prefecture to prefecture would make tracing an outbreak harder, it doesn't go to the issue of detection. The Japanese claim (and the USDA seems to believe the claim) they use the 3-hour test to detect BSE, thus enabling them to test all animals before the meat goes anywhere. Have you heard any rumors that this is not true? The USDA thinks this is overkill, like testing everyone who walks into a doctor's office for colon cancer.

The issue of tracking only comes into play _after_ a case is detected: then you can trace it back to the source. However, if all animals are in fact tested ... who cares what the source was? In theory all infected animals would be taken out of the retail chain.

Of course, I'm sure there's lots of wiggle room here for corrupt bureaucrats. But it seems much better than the current US practices.

People have short memories don't they? :-) Snow Brand beef scandal is just barely 2 years ago and I doubt they fixed it yet:

Oops, I mean milk not beef.

ps: they are still basically cow tho :-)

Europe have the same problem two years ago, and a lot of countries bans imports too.

What the world needs is a habit of betting money to back one's statements. If a politician said something and was forced backed it up with his own money which becomes forefeit if proven otherwise within certain time frame, I think the news business will go bankrupt.

I am an European currently living in Japan, and I am avoiding meat here if I can. I know what state European meat farming was in before the recent spate of scares (with BSE being just the most public of them), and I would avoid eating beef or pork there as well, unless I knew from where the particular animal came from.

The scary thing is, USA has much more lax regulations than Europe had even before the crises, and are depending very heavily on just the kind of industry and farm self-regulation that has failed utterly in all other parts of the world. In addition, some farming practices (like adding growth hormones) that other places prudently forbid is very common. Knowing that the beef I see in Japanese stores nad restaurants is most likely American really puts me off eating it.

It's amusing to me how people are so scared of mad cow, and ban beef imports when it has a very small chance of effecting them, yet the beef industry is proven to be the number two cause of carbon emissions on earth, is a major cause of habitat loss for valuable plants and animals, and on top of that is a huge health risk and major contributer to heart desiese.

Despite all these obvious negative effects on all the billions of people on the earth, most seem not to care, and everyone goes right on eating their beef as if nothing is wrong.

As Jim asked, "So, Joi - You giving up beef?"

You can do a test on a carcass to establish whether it has BSE. The test was devised by an Irish company called Enfer Scientific. The idea is that you'll have a result on the test before the factory is finished with the butchering. I have heard it said that the test hasn't been as great a commercial success as you might imagine. Meat producers and packers aren't that enthusiastic about the idea of testing every single animal. This could well be because they are afraid of what they might find out. If the Japanese really are using this test, fair play to them.

My big concern is where beef byproducts end up in the food chain.

Just about anything can go into "all beef" hotdogs and historically this included the high risk brains.

But gelatin comes from cows and is widely used in many other food products and in the majority of candies.

That is a scary thought!

Hi, I'm doing project about the Mad cow disease and it's very interesting and very scary to me. I was wondering if I could know more about it? If you want you can write to me.
Addess: 724 bannister street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96819

In Japan, beef from America will be lifted the ban on import soon. Japanese(except a part as people of the food service industry, etc)think that American test and management of beef is unbelievable careless(I looked American test and management of beef on TV). The condition of lifting of the ban on import of beef from America is a twenty-month old cattle and the under, and to get rid of the perilous region of cattle(Because current quick diagnostic way of BSE test is difficult to detect the abnormal prion from thrty-month old cattle and the under.). But, according to Eastern medicine, the perilous region is the place that hereditary elements appear strongly. Therefore, can’t see the abnormal prion by technology but may hide the ingredient of the abnormal prion of the root of BSE. And as the number of data by technology is insufficient, can’t assert that a twenty-month old cattle and the under are safe perfectly, it is the opinion of Japanese scientists. In Japan, as the law obliges to show the producing districts of foodstuffs but doesn’t obliges to show the producing districts of foods, we Japanese will have beef from America eaten certainly without knowing a part of foodstuff of our eating foods is the beef from America. We Japanese fears very much. Science and technology isn’t necessarily perfect. We Japanese recommend you American Japanese test for all cattle.

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cowz from white pebble
December 28, 2003 1:48 PM

Maybe they want to import their mad cows from a different country? Japan officially bans imports over U.S. mad cow disease casejapantodayJapan officially bans imports over U.S. mad cow disease case TOKYO — The health ministry officially... Read More

cowz from white pebble
December 28, 2003 1:58 PM

Maybe they want to import their mad cows from a different country? Japan officially bans imports over U.S. mad cow disease casejapantodayJapan officially bans imports over U.S. mad cow disease case TOKYO — The health ministry officially... Read More