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U.S. report on beef exports to Japan only aggravates public concern
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has submitted to the Japanese government a report explaining why U.S. beef packages shipped to Japan contained banned spinal column parts, a high-risk BSE material.
The U.S. government seems to regard the report as sufficient to get the "understanding of the Japanese consumers" (U.S. Ambassador to Japan), and is trying to force Japan to lift the ban on U.S. beef.
Explaining away the problem
Treating the issue as an isolated error made by the exporter and USDA inspector, the report paid no attention at all to the inadequate U.S. measures against BSE.
Even after the spinal column was found at the Narita animal quarantine office, reports have been made one after another that cause concern about the safety of U.S. beef. For example, a USDA Inspector General report revealed that 29 nonambulatory cattle had been slaughtered, even though the U.S. government has made it a rule to remove them from the food chain because of the high risk of BSE.
The sloppy U.S. management of BSE has caused the Japanese consumers worry about.
The Japanese government lifted the ban on U.S. beef following the U.S. government promise that it will strictly follow the rule that Specified Risk Materials (SRMs) such as spinal column will be removed from all cattle, and that cattle are 20 months old or younger. The spinal column found in the package shows that there is no secure U.S. compliance with the rule.
The U.S. government therefore should take sufficient measures to dispel all concerns. Instead, the U.S. government is trying to close the case as an isolated example, thus making the Japanese people even more concerned.
The U.S. report states that the shipment of beef containing spinal column "posed no risk to human health" though it did not meet the terms of the agreement with Japan. This clearly shows the U.S. lack of awareness about the need to remove the SRMs.
The United States has been urging Japan to relax the Japanese system that requires all cows to be tested for BSE on the grounds that removal of high-risk material is more important than BSE tests. The fact is that the U.S. government has not understood why removal of high-risk parts is important. This is why the U.S. government does not hesitate to say that spinal column contained in beef does not affect health.
Although the Japanese government says that the U.S. government is responsible for the spinal parts being mixed in with beef, it must share the blame for resuming the imports by yielding to U.S. pressure.
After the ban was lifted, inspectors of the Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Ministry and the Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry reported to consumers and the government Food Safety Commission that there was no problem with not making sure that high-risk parts were being removed from beef exported to Japan.
It has been revealed that there is no guarantee at all that the preconditions for resuming imports agreed on by the Japanese and U.S. governments will be satisfied.
In Japan, even after the requirements for BSE tests were relaxed in July 2005 under U.S. pressure to cattle of 21 months and older from the previous blanket test regardless of age, all local governments in Japan continue to test all cows for BSE at state expense.
It came to light that bone-meat powder was mixed in the feed for the 22nd BSE-infected cow in Japan, giving a clue to identifying the cause of infection.
U.S. must establish blanket test for BSE
The United States is going to cut its federal budget for BSE tests. This will further worsen the insufficient testing for infections.
The Japanese government has stated that it will carefully examine the report and consider necessary steps to take. The answer is obvious. The import ban must not be lifted until safety standards similar to those in Japan, including blanket tests of all cows and removal of high-risk material from cows of every age, is established.
- Akahata, February 19, 2006
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