A cow in Hokkaido was confirmed Thursday to have contracted mad cow disease, the seventh since the brain-wasting disease was discovered in Japan in 2001, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry

The announcement came just four days after the sixth cow tested positive for the disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. That case involved a cow in Wakayama Prefecture. All seven cows have been Holsteins.

The ministry held a meeting of experts later in the day who confirmed the diagnosis. With the confirmation, the cow’s meat and organs, which have been kept on ice awaiting the outcome, will be incinerated.

According to the ministry, the cow was born on a Hokkaido farm in March 1996, roughly the same time the previous six BSE-infected cows were born.

The previous six cases involved the calves having been fed substitute milk produced at a factory in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture. The farm ministry will investigate to see if the seventh infected cow consumed the same milk, hoping to learn how it contracted the disease.

Meat from the Hokkaido cow tested positive in a preliminary test and again in a more reliable test at Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine.

The proximity of the birthday of the latest BSE cow to those of the previous six adds strength to allegations that feed contaminated with abnormal prion was distributed within the country during a specific time frame.

Prion is a protein that makes up the infectious agent widely believed to be the transmitter of BSE and scrapie from one cell to another and from one animal to another.

The ministry said the buildup of abnormal prions in the seventh cow’s brain was relatively small — about one-tenth that of the previous cow.

Except for one Holstein born in December 1995, the other BSE-positive cows were born between February and April 1996, four of them between late March and early April. The seventh BSE cow was born on March 28.

Although the six cows consumed the same milk, the government has not pinned the blame on the milk as the source of prion contamination.

Japan’s first BSE case was discovered in September 2001. The following month, the government began testing all slaughtered carcasses destined for consumption.

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