米産牛肉輸入 規制緩和は現実的な判断だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 4, 2012)
Easing import restrictions on U.S. beef justifiable
米産牛肉輸入 規制緩和は現実的な判断だ(11月3日付・読売社説)

Although it appears a little belated, a judgment the government has now made can safely be called a realistic approach based on scientific knowledge and international trends in connection with an important issue.

The Cabinet Office's Food Safety Commission is in favor of the planned easing of current regulations on imports of U.S.-produced beef, which have been part of measures to protect against bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease.

In the proposed regulatory easing, imports will be allowed for beef from cattle "30 months of age or younger," compared to the current maximum age of 20 months.
The commission has reasonably concluded that the easing of import restrictions "will hardly increase the BSE risks and its effect on human health should be considered negligible."

Immediately after the outbreak of BSE-infected cattle was confirmed in 2003 in the United States, Japan suspended imports of U.S. beef.

In 2005, the government gave the go-ahead to the resumption of beef imports from the United States on condition that imports would be allowed only for beef from cattle "20 months of age or younger" with the nerve tissues called specific risk material, where BSE-causing prion molecules tend to concentrate, having been removed.

Linkage with TPP talks

BSE is said to occur when prions, aberrant proteins, accumulate in cattle's brain, spinal cord and other places.

The disease has been transmitted primarily through the use of cattle feed that includes meat and bone meal made from other cattle. BSE-infected cattle numbered 37,000 worldwide in the peak year of 1992.

The numbers of cattle developing BSE, however, decreased year after year, falling to just 29 in 2011. This is because strict anti-BSE measures adopted by countries concerned produced excellent results.

The criterion of "cattle 30 months of age or younger" has become a standard part of many major countries' beef import regulations.

As BSE threats shrink worldwide, there appears to be no necessity for Japan alone to continue to impose stricter regulations.

Opposition to regulatory easing by some consumer groups on the ground that it will "threaten food safety" is unpersuasive.

The issue of Japan's readiness to ease beef import restrictions has been intertwined with the issue of Japan's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations, and Washington has paid close attention to the beef import issue.

The government should make steady efforts to ease beef import restrictions for the sake of early participation in the TPP talks.

The government at the same time must review the BSE inspection system for domestic beef.


Review all cattle inspections

Japan's first known occurrence of BSE-stricken cattle was in 2001, and a total of 36 domestically produced cattle have so far been confirmed to be infected with the disease. No outbreak of BSE, however, has been reported after fiscal 2008.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry asked the World Health Organization in September to change Japan's BSE risk status from a "country with controlled risk" to that of a "country with negligible risk."

Regarding domestic beef, the Food Safety Commission has approved easing the range of cattle subject to BSE checks from "21 months of age or older" to "31 months of age or older." The regulation should be eased further.

Only Japan and the European Union conduct BSE checks in the process of cattle slaughter. Cattle subject to the checks in the EU are those "older than 72 months of age," far less stringent in Japan.

Currently, there is no national legal obligation for domestic beef cattle 20 months of age or younger to undergo BSE checks, but local governments all over the country have continued to make all cattle subject to the inspections at their own discretion.

Considering the time and expense required to conduct the inspections, the wisdom of local governments continuing to check all cattle should be reconsidered.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 3, 2012)
(2012年11月3日01時30分  読売新聞)

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