Real Value of Japan's One Trillion Yen BSE Tests

JAPAN - Questions about the effectiveness of Japan’s policy of testing 100 per cent of cattle for BSE were raised in a seminar hosted by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).
calendar icon 11 November 2008
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The BSE seminar, which featured Dr. Ulrich Kihm, former chief veterinary officer of Switzerland and acknowledged international BSE expert, and Dr. Yoshihiro Ozawa, an advisor to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), questioned the value of a BSE testing program for cattle of all ages that has cost an estimated 1 trillion yen (approximately $10 billion) without any benefit to consumers or the industry.

Since the Oct. 15 seminar, the testing issue has been the subject of increased debate in Japan. Following is a summary of a discussion on the editorial page of the Nov. 7 Mainichi Shimbun featuring the governor of Hokkaido, Japan’s second-largest island; a scientist, risk communications expert and professor emeritus from the University of Tokyo; and the vice chair of an influential consumer group, the Federation of Housewives.

  • Ms. Harumi Takahashi (governor of Hokkaido) – Gov. Takahashi stated that it would be premature to discontinue subsidies that pay for BSE testing on 100 percent of cattle. More information is needed and an effort should be made by all parties to aggressively communicate food safety information to consumers. Until then, Hokkaido will continue to support full BSE testing to provide peace of mind to consumers, which is of utmost importance.

  • Dr. Hideaki Karaki (professor emeritus, The University of Tokyo) – Dr. Karaki stated that 100 percent inspection of cattle is not a safety measure because there is no evidence that current tests can detect BSE in cattle younger than 4 years of age. What is effective in preventing BSE is a feed ban and complete removal of specified risk materials (SRMs). He stated that the 100 percent inspection protocol was a ploy to buy the peace of mind of consumers, which resulted in a misunderstanding among consumers that BSE can be detected in younger cattle through these tests. The country needs to educate consumers through science-based policies and measures rather than on emotion.

  • Ms. Masae Wada (vice chair, Shufuren, Federation of Housewives) – Ms. Wada stated that it would be premature to change the testing protocol. The way to ensure safety is 100 percent testing, SRM removal and a feed ban. The government’s reports have not answered all the questions and concerns related to these three issues. One would think the government is rushing the review in order to accommodate U.S. beef imports. Spending 2,000 yen (approximately $20) per head on inspections is justifiable and the taxpayer would understand.
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