Japanese science, Japanese myth

April 9, 2008 12:00 AM

If you ask a Japanese consumer why it is safe to eat beef in Japan, he might say because we test every single cow that is slaughtered in Japan against BSE prion. It is, though, not true. Scientists know that if a cow is younger than twenty months, it is scientifically impossible to detect BSE prion. It is meaningless to test those cows.

BSE, or Mad Cow Disease, is somewhat similar to poisonous fugu, or blow fish. The Japanese eat fugu without fearing its poison. Fugu is totally safe when its body parts that contain poison, liver, eggs, skin etc. are removed by a well-trained chef. BSE prion, just like fugu poison, is concentrated at the certain body parts namely brain, eyes and spiral cord. If you remove these parts, which are called SRM, the cow is safe to eat.

The Food Safety Commission recommended three years ago that the local governments, who have authority over supply of meat, stop testing cows younger than twenty months against BSE. The consumers will not be exposed to a greater risk even if local governments stop testing. All the local governments, however, have not followed the FSC recommendation as they fear the consumers may not understand what it means. The Government is now asking the local governments to stop testing as of July 31 this year. I think this is very important step for the Japanese. We need to be more scientific when we try to keep our food safe.