November 17, 2003



Japan To Ban Use of Cattle Backbones in Food Products

On Friday November 14, Japan's health ministry panel recommended a ban on the use of cattle backbones in food products, as a safeguard against the human variant of mad cow disease.


The ban will apply to the backbones of cattle reared in Japan and in other nations that have suffered cases of mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).


The manufacture and sale of extracts or oil derived from cow backbones, as well as processed foods containing such extracts or oil, will be banned, members of the special BSE panel said.


The backbone is deemed as likely to transmit the disease as the spinal cord of diseased cows, they said. The use of spinal cord extracts in food has already been banned.


Acting on the panel's recommendations, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry notified prefectural governments of the ban Friday.


The ban will be enforced in mid-February, though the ministry expects local authorities to exercise restraint on the use of cattle backbones even before the regulations take effect.


The ban will cover domestic T-bone steaks, sales of which have been poor anyway, the panel said.


The measure is part of a government drive to combat the brain-wasting disease, the ninth case of which was confirmed earlier this month in a slaughtered 21-month-old bullock in Hiroshima Prefecture.


A ban already exists on imports of food products featuring these extracts -- and on T-bone steaks -- from other BSE-hit nations.


The ban does not apply to products from Australia or the United States, which have not reported any cases of BSE.


The new measure will not apply to these nations either.


Panel members said the problem is not the backbone itself, but rather the abnormal prions that have been found to accumulate in the ganglion.


Prions are protein particles lacking nucleic acid that have been linked to nervous system illnesses such as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, which is believed to have come from BSE.


According to the panel, the risk of infection from cow backbones is the same as that posed by spinal cords. In June, the Japan's government ordered the removal and incineration of the spinal cords of all slaughtered cattle.

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