The health ministry has requested that testing for mad cow disease be halted in July for all cattle under 48 months old as farmers continue to stick with blanket testing.
The move is based on a joint judgment by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, which have decided there is no longer a need to check all cattle and that the higher age limit will not pose a public health risk.
The World Organization for Animal Health is expected to change its risk status for Japanese cattle from “controlled” to “negligible” for the brain-wasting disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the health ministry said.
The ministry has decided to raise the age limit for BSE test exemptions to 48 months instead of 30 months from July 1.
Japan’s first case of mad cow disease was reported in 2001, prompting the government to initiate blanket testing of all domestic cattle in October that year. The testing requirements were eased to cattle 21 months or older in August 2005. The threshold was raised to 30 months at the start of the current fiscal year, on April 1.
Farmers in local governments, however, are continuing to test all cattle regardless of age to avoid the spread of harmful rumors. Some 1.18 million cattle were slaughtered in Japan in fiscal 2011 but less than 20 percent, or about 200,000, were over 48 months old, the ministry said.
Raising the testing age will permit nearly 1 million cattle to avoid BSE testing each year. Younger cattle are thought to be less likely of developing the disease. So far, 36 cows have been found infected with BSE in Japan, with the last positive case reported in 2009.