Last month, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries put down a 5-year-old Holstein dairy cow thought to be infected with mad cow disease. It's the first reported case of the brain-wasting bovine affliction in Asia.
Officials in Chiba prefecture, near Tokyo, were alarmed when one of a 30-cow herd lost the ability to stand. The animal was slaughtered and a second set of tests confirmed holes in its brain tissue. According to Japanese and World Health Organization officials, imported feed was the likely cause.
Once a local problem for Britain and its residents, the disease is now an international issue. Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is believed to spread by using meat and bones from infected animals as cattle feed.
While most imported cattle feed used in Japan comes from the United States, Canada and Australia, some shipments were taken from European countries, including Denmark, before a ban on European feed took effect last year, Katsuaki Sugiura, a Ministry of Agriculture official, told the Associated Press.
At least 4,000 gallons of milk from the cow have been sold commercially, but health experts doubt the disease can be transmitted to humans by consuming milk.
All other cows in the herd were quarantined, and the Ministry is scaling up its testing program. Japan stopped importing animal feed from Britain in 1996, but the incubation period for mad cow disease is estimated between two and 10 years. Based on that information, a yet-to-be-released report from the Scientific Steering Committee of the European Union estimated that the risk level of mad cow disease appearing in Japan was three on a scale of one to four.
The higher the grade, the greater the chance that the food chain has been contaminated by the disease.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXII/number 10/p. 1, 9