Analysis of BSE shows progress against disease | TSLN.com

Analysis of BSE shows progress against disease

USMEF

An overreliance on meaningless testing and a lack of focus on documenting the effectiveness of steps that are making significant inroads against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) are hindering a hungry world’s access to protein, driving up food costs and harming local economies as well as the U.S. beef industry. These were key findings presented by a leading global expert on BSE at a conference for Japan’s opinion leaders hosted by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) in Tokyo, Oct. 15.

Dr. Ulrich Kihm, former chief veterinary officer of Switzerland with extensive experience in the research and analysis of infectious animal diseases, including BSE, was a featured speaker at the seminar. He was joined on the dais by Dr. Masahiko Ariji, a researcher for the AMITA Institute for Sustainable Economics, and a panel of Japanese journalists and health industry experts.

Speaking to an audience of more than 80 Japanese government officials, meat industry representatives, media and opinion leaders, including Takeshi Mikami, chairperson of the Food Safety Commission for the Government of Japan, Dr. Kihm informed the audience that Japan’s insistence on testing 100 percent of cattle for BSE – regardless of age – has been ineffective. He stated that the youngest documented case of BSE to his knowledge was 34 months of age.

“You can say to people that food is safe,” said Dr. Kihm, “but you can never say there is no risk – not only for BSE, but for other reasons.” However, Dr. Kihm noted that the effectiveness of removal of specified risk materials and the implementation of bans on the use of meat and bone meal for livestock feed have dramatically reduced the incidence of BSE and the risk of vCJD (variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease).

Dr. Ariji told the audience that there is a risk of BSE for consumers in Japan, but it is a risk that has not been accurately reported.

“There is a risk/reward factor in many activities. People climb mountains for the reward of getting to the top,” said Dr. Ariji. “When it comes to beef consumption, there is no communication of benefits – only talk about risk. The risk of limiting access to beef is limiting a source of food. The reward is providing consumers with food at lower prices and it could save resources and energy (in production).”

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Dr. Ariji proceeded to outline the risks of death associated with a variety of circumstances based on available statistics and human exposure. His estimates show that there is virtually no chance of anyone getting vCJD in Japan, but that the risk from other activities is much higher. For example, the chances of dying from the following in Japan compared to contracting vCJD are:

– Wasp sting: 1,200 times more likely.

– Choking on a rice cake: 44,000 times more likely.

– Mountain climbing: 300,000 times more likely.

– Drowning in a bath: 380,000 times more likely.

– Smoking (leading to cancer or heart attack): 4.4 million times more likely.

“The risk of dying from BSE is one of the smallest, least measurable food-related risks,” said Dr. Ariji. But he noted that opinions of risk are divided, and the problem is not with the risk, but how it is communicated. He said that if all focus is on the risk and none on the reward, the risk can be overestimated.

An overreliance on meaningless testing and a lack of focus on documenting the effectiveness of steps that are making significant inroads against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) are hindering a hungry world’s access to protein, driving up food costs and harming local economies as well as the U.S. beef industry. These were key findings presented by a leading global expert on BSE at a conference for Japan’s opinion leaders hosted by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) in Tokyo, Oct. 15.

Dr. Ulrich Kihm, former chief veterinary officer of Switzerland with extensive experience in the research and analysis of infectious animal diseases, including BSE, was a featured speaker at the seminar. He was joined on the dais by Dr. Masahiko Ariji, a researcher for the AMITA Institute for Sustainable Economics, and a panel of Japanese journalists and health industry experts.

Speaking to an audience of more than 80 Japanese government officials, meat industry representatives, media and opinion leaders, including Takeshi Mikami, chairperson of the Food Safety Commission for the Government of Japan, Dr. Kihm informed the audience that Japan’s insistence on testing 100 percent of cattle for BSE – regardless of age – has been ineffective. He stated that the youngest documented case of BSE to his knowledge was 34 months of age.

“You can say to people that food is safe,” said Dr. Kihm, “but you can never say there is no risk – not only for BSE, but for other reasons.” However, Dr. Kihm noted that the effectiveness of removal of specified risk materials and the implementation of bans on the use of meat and bone meal for livestock feed have dramatically reduced the incidence of BSE and the risk of vCJD (variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease).

Dr. Ariji told the audience that there is a risk of BSE for consumers in Japan, but it is a risk that has not been accurately reported.

“There is a risk/reward factor in many activities. People climb mountains for the reward of getting to the top,” said Dr. Ariji. “When it comes to beef consumption, there is no communication of benefits – only talk about risk. The risk of limiting access to beef is limiting a source of food. The reward is providing consumers with food at lower prices and it could save resources and energy (in production).”

Dr. Ariji proceeded to outline the risks of death associated with a variety of circumstances based on available statistics and human exposure. His estimates show that there is virtually no chance of anyone getting vCJD in Japan, but that the risk from other activities is much higher. For example, the chances of dying from the following in Japan compared to contracting vCJD are:

– Wasp sting: 1,200 times more likely.

– Choking on a rice cake: 44,000 times more likely.

– Mountain climbing: 300,000 times more likely.

– Drowning in a bath: 380,000 times more likely.

– Smoking (leading to cancer or heart attack): 4.4 million times more likely.

“The risk of dying from BSE is one of the smallest, least measurable food-related risks,” said Dr. Ariji. But he noted that opinions of risk are divided, and the problem is not with the risk, but how it is communicated. He said that if all focus is on the risk and none on the reward, the risk can be overestimated.