September 11, 2003

 

 

Japan Schools Still Avoid Beef Due To BSE Fears

 

Hundreds of Japan's public elementary and junior high schools with student lunch programs are still refusing to use beef because of worries about mad cow disease, according to a recent government survey.

 

The study, conducted last month by Japan's Agriculture Ministry, found that 703 schools, or about 4.3% nationwide, still banned beef in meals, the national Yomiuri newspaper reported in its Wednesday evening edition.

 

Behind the ban were fears that authorities haven't rid the nation's herds of the brain-wasting illness formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the daily cited the study as saying.

 

Concerns about mislabeled meat following a scandal in which domestic beef and other meats were fraudulently labeled were also a factor, it said.

 

A ministry official declined to comment, or provide a copy of the study.

 

Immediately after Japan discovered its first infected cow -the first confirmed case outside Europe -in September 2001, sales of domestic beef plunged. More than half of the country's 16,000 elementary and junior high schools temporarily banned beef in school lunch programs, according to media reports.

 

Last year, beef producers were hit again when several meat packaging companies were caught mislabeling domestic meat as imports to qualify for a government program to get infected meat off the market and destroyed before it could be sold to consumers. The scandal prompted dozens of department stores and supermarkets to withdraw select beef products from shelves and schools to stop serving beef.

 

Beef sales have since recovered and most schools have lifted the ban.

 

But some school officials and local education boards have resisted government efforts to persuade them to use homegrown beef, and many parents remain wary about safety, the Yomiuri report said.

 

So far Japan has confirmed seven cases of the disease among cattle, most recently in January. Japan has banned the use of meat-and-bone meal as cattle feed -believed to be the cause of the outbreak -and infected cows are incinerated. The bovine illness is thought to cause the fatal human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.