Withdraw Plans to Reexamine Japan’s Strict Measures against Mad Cow Disease
December 9, 2011
Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) decided on December 9, 2011 to consider reexamining the legal measures against Mad Cow Disease and to ask the BSE committee of the Food Safety Commission to deal with the issue by the end of the year.
We regard the easing of the present BSE inspection standards to have only one purpose, namely to make it possible to resume beef imports from the United States.
Food Safety Citizens’ Watch and Consumers Union of Japan have sent the following letter of protest on December 9, 2011, demanding that the Japanese government should withdraw its reexamination plans and instead continue to protect consumers against BSE.
Protest Letter: Withdraw Plans to Reexamine Japan’s Strict BSE Measures!
On October 31, 2011, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) raised the issue of reexamining the countermeasures against BSE, and submitted this request to the Food Safety Commission on December 9, 2011.
We regard this as a politically motivated decision that only serves to accept expanded imports of beef products from the United States. We find this to be premature and strongly urge the Japanese government to withdraw its reexamination process, for the following reasons:
1) Japan introduced countermeasures against BSE in 2001, implementing a strict system to safeguard against this terrible disease.
Japan’s domestic system includes the testing of all cattle and a traceability system that identifies each cow, as well as the removal of Specified Risk Material (SRM) after slaughter, in addition to feed regulation. This is a system that serves as a global model for countermeasures against BSE and its importance has not been diminished.
However, during the time of the reelection campaign of president George W. Bush in 2005, Japan agreed to change its strict rules so that beef products from cattle aged 20 months or younger could be imported from the US based on a simplified BSE countermeasure system. This concession followed intense US pressure on Japan’s government.
Even so, careful testing of each and every cow has continued domestically here in Japan in order to protect consumers.
2) As part of the proposed new countermeasures against BSE, the age limit will be raised to 30 months, and it will thus become unnecessary to test any cows that are younger than 30 months. However, there is no scientific basis for changing the age limit for BSE inspection from 20 months to 30 months.
In fact, we regard this as a purely political decision as Japan attempts to join the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations. It is simply a concession to US domestic standards that has set the age limit arbitrarily at 30 months for its own cattle testing program. It would mean that 90% of US beef products, rather than 20% today, will become eligible for export to Japan.
Japan made this concession to remove what trade negotiators call a “non-tariff barrier” to US president Obama as he tries to get reelected for a second term, and needs the support of and contribution for his electoral campaign from the powerful US beef industry. This also helped Japan get the US to accept that it would be allowed to participate in the TPP negotiations.
3) While BSE infection rates have decreased around the world, there is no evidence that the US system to combat the disease has had any such effect.
Moreover, questions have still not been answered regarding the spreading of the disease, the cause of development of symptoms of BSE, and the issue of prions inside the bodies of cows.
In order to completely eradicate BSE from the world, it is indispensable that research based on Japan’s system that tests all cows should be implemented in all countries, and that data collection should be further expanded.
Since there have been 15 confirmed cases of US beef product export program violations with regards to Japan, it is also necessary to strictly verify the US compliance with countermeasures against BSE.
4) We are concerned that if non-tariff barriers are further deliberated in the TPP negotiation process, we will end up with a similar situation that South Korea is now facing as part of its free trade agreement with the US. This system explicitly makes it impossible for a country to stop imports of beef products from a country even if BSE should occur in the exporting country (This is also known as the “ratchet effect” and implies that any new liberalization measures would be “locked in” so they cannot be rescinded or nullified over time, for example by improved consumer protection legislation). Such deregulation is unacceptable to consumers in Japan.
Additionally, we are strongly opposed to having the rules and standards of OIE (Office International des Epizooties) as mandatory provisions that override Japan’s food safety measures that are based on the precautionary principle. We regard this as a serious and unacceptable affront to Japan’s sovereignty.
Amagasa Keisuke, Koga Mako, Mashimo Toshi & Yamaura Yasuaki