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The farm ministry will inspect all cows born between March and April 1996 for symptoms of mad cow disease, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tsutomu Takebe said Friday.

The four infected cows so far discovered in Japan were all born during that period.

The ministry hopes to begin the checks for mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, in June. Some 26,000 cows will be examined at livestock health centers in every prefecture, Takebe said.

Takebe said he hopes dairy farmers will help the ministry carry out the program, adding he is thinking carefully what the government can do to obtain their support.

The four infected cows also all ate feed produced at a factory in Gunma Prefecture. The government is considering whether it should examine other cattle that ate the same feed.

To eliminate BSE from the country, Japan must obtain accurate information on the route of the infection, he said.

On Tuesday, members of a ruling Liberal Democratic Party panel on BSE demanded that the government conduct intensive inspections of all cows born in the spring of 1996.

According to the ministry, two of the four infected cows were born March 26, 1996, while the others were born March 23 and April 4 of that year.

On Monday, the ministry confirmed that a cow in Hokkaido had been infected with BSE — the fourth case detected in Japan since September.

The first, second and fourth cows were all born in Hokkaido, while the third was born in Gunma Prefecture. All were Holsteins.

Mad cow disease is believed to spread through cattle feed containing recycled meat and bones that is ground into meal.

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 cattle have been found with the disease in Britain.

Food safety sought

A white paper on agriculture released Friday by the farm ministry calls for higher standards of food safety in the wake of the discovery of mad cow disease in Japan last year.

The white paper for fiscal 2001 did not make any apology for the government’s failure to prevent the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy but carries a report on BSE cases in Japan that was presented by an investigative panel in early April.

The report criticized the ministry for its failure to ban meat-and-bone meal feed in the mid-1990s and said the legal and institutional frameworks to ensure food safety in Japan were inadequate.

A senior official at the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said the government has included the report in the white paper as a lesson for the future. It is unusual for a government paper to carry such a report.

The white paper says Japan has confirmed the outbreak of BSE and that the public has lost faith in food safety.

But it points out that the government has established a system to ensure only safe beef makes it to market, citing measures such as testing all cattle to ensure they are free of BSE.

The white paper also says it is necessary for Japan to ensure safety “from the farm to the table” and to restore public faith in the labeling of food as soon as possible — a reference to several cases that have come to light in the past year of fraudulent and false labeling of food.

The 10-member investigative panel, set up in November by the farm and health ministries, comprised three veterinarians, three journalists, two representatives of consumer groups, a social scientist and an expert on infectious diseases.

The BSE outbreak in Japan is the first outside Europe. A cow infected with BSE was discovered in September, while three more cases have been confirmed since, the latest on Monday.

The white paper also refers to China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in December, saying the move will force China to follow international rules in trade but also help it increase exports, aided by its low labor costs.

It also says Japan is slow to promote reforms in various agricultural areas, especially rice farming, and called for profitability to be boosted by expanding the size of farms and diversifying agriculture businesses into such areas as processing and distribution.

To cope with a growing number of people who wish to work in the agricultural sector, the paper calls for the promotion of education on agriculture and training.

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