First suspected Asian case of mad cow found in Japan

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

TOKYO -- Japan may have Asia's first case of mad cow disease, the government said Monday, citing tainted feed from Europe as a possible cause.

Initial tests on the brain of a cow in Chiba prefecture east of Tokyo revealed signs of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as mad cow disease, the Ministry of Agriculture said.

Scientists think the disease causes a similar fatal brain-wasting ailment in humans.

More tests are needed to determine whether the cow was infected with BSE, officials said. Earlier testing in August had come up negative. The cow was slaughtered after mysteriously losing the ability to stand in early August, the ministry said.

The Holstein was probably contaminated after eating feed that contained animal parts, said Katsuaki Sugiura, another official at the Ministry of Agriculture's animal health division.

Most imported feed used in Japan comes from the United States, Canada and Australia -- all believed to be free of mad cow disease. However, some feed was imported from European countries, including Denmark and Italy, before a Japanese ban on European feed took effect this year, Sugiura said.

Milk produced by the 5-year-old Holstein had already been sold on the market before the slaughter, but there was no danger to consumers, said Norio Tsuruoka, an official at the Chiba prefectural office's stockbreeding sanitation section.

He said it was not immediately clear where the milk had been marketed. Chiba is a main supplier of agricultural products to Tokyo, which borders the state on the west.

Cows quarantined

There are a total of about 100 cattle in Shiroi, the town where the cow was found, including some 30 other cows at the same farm. Many have been quarantined but none are thought to carry the disease, Tsuruoka said. Officials have yet to decide whether to slaughter the other cattle.

Scientists believe humans can contract variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human equivalent of mad cow disease, by eating beef infected with BSE. CJD kills its carrier by tearing holes in brain tissue.

Mad cow disease is believed to be spread by recycling meat and bones from infected animals back into cattle feed.

The first diagnosis of mad cow disease in Britain in 1986 resulted in wholesale herd slaughtering, mandatory testing and a European Union ban on British beef exports. The EU ban on British beef has since been lifted.

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