A test conducted Saturday on a slaughtered cow has revealed that it was infected with mad cow disease, the health ministry said.

The case is the fourth to be confirmed since last September, when the first case of the disease was reported in Japan.

The outcome of Saturday’s more precise test, carried out at the Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine in Hokkaido, followed a preliminary test Friday, in which the 6-year-old Holstein initially tested positive for the brain-wasting illness.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will hold an expert meeting Monday to make a final decision on the infection.

After the ministry reaches a conclusion on the matter, the animal’s meat and internal organs will be incinerated, according to the sources.

The discovery of Japan’s fourth case of mad cow disease supports the theory that the disease is prevalent across the country.

Since October, Japan has tested every cow slaughtered for beef for the disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

If a preliminary test finds a sample that is apparently positive at the mass screening level, the more elaborate Western Blot examination is conducted.

The first case in Japan was found last September, while the second and third were identified in November.

The latest cow suspected of being infected seems to share many features with the other three cows confirmed to be carrying BSE, including having been born in 1996.

In addition, the first, second and fourth cows were all born in Hokkaido, while the third was born in Gunma Prefecture.

The Agricultural, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry will launch an investigation into what these cows were fed to try to determine a link.

Cows are believed to contract the disease by eating meat-and-bone meal contaminated with BSE. But Japanese authorities have yet to detect the sources of the domestic infections.

According to the health ministry, the fourth cow was born in the town of Ombetsu in eastern Hokkaido in March 23, 1996, and raised by a dairy farmer in the same town. It was taken to the city of Kushiro to be slaughtered.

BSE has been linked to the deaths of more than 100 people in Europe. The disease was first found in Britain in the mid-1980s. So far, about 180,000 cows have been found to have the disease in Britain.

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