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Japan and United States still at impasse on testing all American cattle for BSE: should all cattle be checked for Mad Cow Disease? Japan is doing it, and wants the United States, which aims to test only 20,000 head, to do likewise as the price of resuming imports beef from the US--even though no other country in the world has adopted such a regimen.

Hopes for a compromise were blasted March 16, when Japan declared that it would retain its ban on US beef imports because a US offer the previous day to test more cattle for BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encelphalopathy) didn't go far enough to ensure the meat is safe, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda.

"We are waiting to see what the US plans to do to resolve this problem," Fukuda said at a press conference in Tokyo. Japan says it still wants the US to test all 35 million head of cattle it slaughters every year or develop an alternative way to guard against human consumption of tainted meat before agreeing to restart beef shipments.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had offered to increase as much as 12-fold the number of cattle it tests for Mad Cow Disease to help restore confidence in the safety of beef supply. The rests would cover as many cattle as possible among an estimated 446,000 high-risk animals, including those too sick to walk, according to USDA Undersecretary J. B. Penn.

Before the ban, imports accounted for about 60% of Japan's beef consumption, with almost half the shipments coming from the US. Japanese food companies, including Yoshinoya D&C Co., the country's third-largest restaurant chain, have been forced to halt or curb sales of beef dishes because they can't secure enough meat from suppliers in Australia and New Zealand.

The stepped-up inspection program adopted by the USDA but rejected by Japan, is precisely what was recommended by an international panel of scientists consulted by the USDA and including BSE experts from New Zealand, the UK and Switzerland. Ron DeHaven, USDA chief veterinary officer, said testing between 201,000 and 268,000 cattle would allow the prevalence of BSE to be determined with 95-99% accuracy, but otherwise refused to specify any specific target for the tests.

The international panel also recommended testing some apparently healthy animals at abattoirs. Switzerland implemented this policy to discourage farmers from sending suspect animals for slaughter before their symptoms become obvious. DeHaven said the US will test only 20,000 slaughtered animals. Cattle will be tested with the fast tests now used in European abattoirs.

Mandatory testing of all US cattle for BSE would be unscientific and unnecessary, the USDA has been arguing all along, The government position has also won industry support, as witness Philip Seng, president of the US Meat Export Federation. Yet one US beef company has actually come out in favor of the idea.

Creekstone Farms, based in Arkansas City, Kansas, wants the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to approve a rapid BSE test so its proposed testing program can get started. Japan and some European countries have been using rapid tests to screen cattle carcasses for BSE, or mad cow disease, but no such tests have been approved for use in the United States.

Rapid test or no, Japan is the only member of the World Organization for Animal Health to test all cattle for the brain-wasting disease. Europe tests at a far higher rate than the US, but nowhere near every cow. Japanese beef importers, rather than the government, Seng said, should decide whether full testing of cattle is necessary because the issue is a specific business contract term, he said.

Japan brained US beef after a single infected cow was found in the state of Washington, and that cow turned out to have come from Canada. Yet Japan has recorded 11 cases, the latest being a cow from Hokkaido certain to have been infected with mad cow disease, the agriculture ministry said March 9. Another suspected case in Miyagi Prefecture turned out to be a false alarm. Still, testing all cattle is seen as essential to restoring public confidence in the beef industry.

The USDA compromise was good news to Fabio Rupp, an official of Prionics, a Swiss company that is among several firms with tests under consideration by the USDA to implement an expanded testing program. The previous goal was to test 40,000 cattle a year, still twice the number tested before the BSE incident in Washington.

That incident showed that possibly tainted meat can really get around. USDA officials had originally set the recall at 10,400 pounds after determining that Vern's Moses Lake Meats in Moses Lake, Wash., had mingled meat from the infected cow with meat from 19 other head of cattle on Dec. 9.

Vern's shipped the entire amount, 10,400 pounds, to a deboning plant in Centralia, Washington. From there, the meat was sent to two processors in Oregon, where it was mixed with other meat to create 38,000 pounds of hamburger. The ground beef was then shipped to wholesalers and retailers in six western states.

From slaughter to supermarkets and restaurants, about 580 businesses handled the meat, officials said. About 21,000 tons was returned; the remaining 17,000, they surmised, was either consumed or discarded by consumers. The USDA handled the recall as well as it could, but also believes there may have been a coverup in the original case.
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Title Annotation:Meat Of The Matter
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2004
Previous Article:Driving retail growth in the "Fast Food Nation".
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