Japan confirmed its 15th case of mad cow disease Saturday in an 8½-year-old cow, underscoring concerns about older cattle being particularly at risk of the fatal brain-wasting illness which has kept Tokyo from lifting its ban on U.S. beef imports.
The Agriculture Ministry said in a statement Saturday that tests at a state-run research centre near Tokyo on a Holstein cow from Hobetsu in northern Hokkaido prefecture (state) had come up positive, confirming the findings of preliminary tests earlier this week.
The cow had been killed and sent for testing after it began stumbling and showing signs of arthritis, and none of its carcass had not entered the food supply, said Agriculture Ministry spokesman Kiyoyasu Ishikawa.
“All meat, internal organs and parts from this cattle have been incinerated, and there is no danger of them being circulated in food or used for consumption in any way,” the ministry statement said.
Eating beef from an infected cow is thought to cause the fatal human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Older cattle are considered more vulnerable to the disease.
Tokyo has checked every slaughtered cow before it enters the food supply since 2001, after its first discovery of mad cow disease, known formally as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.
It has also blocked all U.S. beef imports since the first case of mad cow was confirmed in Washington state in December 2003.
The latest case comes as Japan edges toward a partial relaxation of that ban to allow American beef products from younger cows back into the market.
A government panel earlier this month recommended that Tokyo lift the ban on products from U.S. grade A40 beef, which comes primarily from cattle 12 to 17 months old. The decision still has to be approved by the government.
Although the panel’s decision was welcomed by the U.S. government as an important step toward resuming trade, Japanese consumer organizations criticized the move, saying it was politically motivated.
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised the issue of Japan completely lifting its ban in talks with visiting Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura during bilateral talks in Washington.
Before the ban, Japan was the most lucrative overseas market for U.S. beef producers, buying $2.1 billion Cdn in beef in 2003.
But public concerns about beef safety remain prevalent.
On Feb. 4, Japan confirmed its first human case of mad cow disease following the death of a man with symptoms of the illness. Japanese health authorities have said it was likely the man contracted the disease while living for a month in Britain — where mad cow first surfaced — in 1989.