The health minister said Tuesday the discovery of Japan’s 12th case of mad cow disease in Kyushu testifies to the nationwide spread of the illness.

The discovery of the infected cow on a Kumamoto Prefecture farm “has spotlighted even more clearly the fact that infections have spread nationwide,” Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Chikara Sakaguchi said at a news conference.

“The government has to look into what kind of feeds the cow ate in the past and clarify what points will require close examination,” he said.

The most recent case, confirmed Monday following blanket testing, involved a slaughtered 62-month-old cow. It was the first case of mad cow in Kyushu.

The preceding 11 cases were detected in various locations from Hokkaido to western Honshu.

Japan’s first case was in September 2001.

Asked about the Gifu Prefectural Government’s expressed intention to maintain blanket testing for the disease, Sakaguchi said he is ready to respect such plans by local governments.

“Although the (central) government itself has not determined what to do with the blanket testing system, I believe, in my personal view, that it is acceptable for local governments to maintain the existing testing regime,” he said.

Sakaguchi’s comments came five days after a government advisory panel referred to the difficulty of detecting mad cow disease in cattle aged 20 months or younger using current methods, effectively urging the government to exclude such cows from testing in a move seen as tilting toward restarting U.S. beef imports.

The disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, becomes detectable when abnormal prions accumulate in the brains of cattle.

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