- The Japanese government is suppressing a European Commission
report that claims the country is at risk from mad cow disease, according
to European diplomats.
- Apparently under pressure from their own powerful farming
industry, Japanese officials in Brussels and Tokyo are furiously lobbying
the Commission not to release the report, due out this September.
- "The Japanese government has asked that it be held
back or not produced, and we don't know the reasons," an official
of the Commission's Tokyo delegation said yesterday. "We suspect that
they're worried about a panic reaction among their own people. But our
concern is to have all the information available so that we can make sure
we have the confidence of consumers."
- The report, prepared by the Commission's scientific steering
committee (SSC), concludes that although there is no evidence of BSE in
Japan, there is an "objective risk" of the disease developing
because of past imports of cattle feed from infected countries. The committee's
job is to prevent the re-importation of BSE into Europe by identifying
countries at risk.
- Assessments of countries such as America and Australia
have found no risk but Japan scored three on a scale of one to five, indicating
that, although no cases have been found, the disease could be incubating
in infected cattle.
- "Japan requested such an assessment, but when they
realised that the data they had supplied showed that there was an objective
risk, they withdrew their request," the Commission official said yesterday.
- Because of the lobbying, the report is not likely to
appear on the internet with the other assessments, although it will be
available internally. Officials in Brussels said the document was in draft
form and had not been adopted formally and, since the exercise was voluntary,
Japan could pull out at any time
- However, they say that the main objective of the survey
- to protect European consumers - has been achieved because the Japanese
now remove the so-called specified risk material, such as spinal columns,
- Britain's BSE crisis was widely reported in Japan, but
it is generally regarded as a foreign problem with no implications for
Japanese consumers. Some scientists, however, claim that Tokyo is turning
a blind eye to the possibility that BSE was introduced in bone meal imports
from Britain before such products were banned.
- Takashi Onodera, a Japanese government adviser on food
safety, said: "The SSC's rating is unfair, but it is true that we
must intensify our controls."