- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 14, 2002

TOKYO (AP) Japan confirmed its fourth case of mad cow disease yesterday, the first since an outbreak late last year triggered widespread fear of tainted beef.

The discovery comes despite repeated assurances from government officials that the country's herds are being cleared of the disease and that its beef stocks are safe.

A six-year-old Holstein dairy cow tested positive for the disease Saturday at Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido.

A panel of government ministry experts confirmed the diagnosis yesterday.

Mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, has devastated European cattle. Japan became Asia's first country with infected herds when an initial case was discovered in September. Two other cows tested positive in November.

During last year's outbreak, surveys suggested that as many as one in four Japanese had stopped eating beef. Meat sales plummeted.

As recently as March, the Agriculture Ministry had boasted that Japan's beef was the safest it has been since the disease was first confirmed in Japan.

The claim was based largely on the screening of all cattle bound for human consumption, a policy implemented in October. Infected cows are slaughtered and incinerated.

Health Ministry spokesman Makoto Kanie said Japan's meat stocks were still safe despite the fourth case because the screening keeps tainted beef off the market. Milk is likewise safe because it is not known to transmit the mad cow pathogens, he said.

Mad cow disease is believed to spread through cattle feed using recycled meat and bones from infected animals. The bovine illness, apparently spread by eating infected beef, is thought to cause the fatal human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Japan has banned the use of meat-and-bone meal as cattle feed, in addition to its extensive screening of slaughtered cattle.

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