Japan Cites Concerns About Mad Cow Audit
By LIBBY QUAID
AP Food and Farm Writer
Asia Pacific News
WASHINGTON (AP) — Japan is expressing concerns about whether the United States has sufficient safeguards against mad cow disease in slaughterhouses and packing plants.
The concerns were cited in a phone conversation Tuesday between Japan’s agriculture minister, Shoichi Nakagawa, and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.
During the call, Nakagawa asked about an audit released earlier this month saying investigators were unable to determine if rules were being followed.
Johanns pointed out the department had agreed to make changes recommended in the audit.
“Actually, we’re in great shape to respond to whatever questions come up by Japan, because we’ve already been there with the inspector general,” Johanns said.
Japan suspended imports of U.S. beef last month after finding a veal shipment containing backbone, considered by Asian officials to be a mad cow disease risk. The cut of veal, a hotel rack, is eaten in the U.S.
In the audit, investigators said they couldn’t find that at-risk tissues – brains, spinal cords and other nerve parts from older animals – had entered the food supply. However, they couldn’t determine whether slaughterhouses and packing plants followed the rules for keeping those tissues out of the food supply.
The audit also raised questions about “downer” cattle, animals that can’t walk on their own and are considered at-risk for mad cow disease. Downer cows were banned from the food supply in response to a 2003 case of mad cow disease.
Sometimes cattle collapse after they have already passed inspection; government inspectors allow those animals into the food supply if they have an acute injury, such as a broken leg, but show no signs of central nervous disorder. Auditors said there was no documentation in at least 20 of these cases.
Japan had only recently reopened its market to U.S. beef, which had been banned since the U.S. confirmed its first case of mad cow disease in December 2003. The U.S. is still investigating what went wrong with the recent shipment to Japan, Johanns said.
Mad cow disease is the common name for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, a degenerative nerve disease in cattle that is linked in humans to the rare but fatal variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.