Friday, July 24, 2009


Yes, I am truly astonished.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) on July 22 announced that spinal columns, a specified risk material for BSE (mad cow), were found for the 12th time since 2006 in boxes of frozen meat imported from the United States.

For those of us* who follow these sorts of things, this is astonishing.

It is not that the SRM was found. Yes, it is odd that there are only a limited number beef exporters to Japan and that they seem to continually, albeit occasionally, to include SRM in their shipments. Nor does it seem even hypocritical for Japan to scrutinize others after the government purposely ignored warnings in 2001 from the EU and UN that the country was at risk for Mad Cow (look up how Kobe beef cows are raised...). Or that it is considered near impossible to get BSE from imported American/Canadian (same herd, btw) beef as it is all under 20 months--most beef sold in American markets is 18 months.

No, what was astonishing is who importer was. It was Creekstone Farms.

Creekstone, a purveyor and slaughterhouse of premium, organic Black Angus beef, has long been a favorite of the Japanese government. When BSE was discover in 2003 in the U.S. herd, the Embassy and Jetro worked quietly with Creekstone to encourage it to push for its own independent testing of individual cattle for BSE (at present you can only test after the poor animal has died). For one, a big contract with Sumisho (a subsidiary of Sumitomo) was at stake; for another, Tokyo was looking for any way to keep the cost of American beef high in Japan.

Luck would have it that the USDA and most cattle ranchers fought Creekstone in court and won. More interesting, Creekstone was not satisfied with the Sumitomo deal and found another distributor, Starzen to handle its exports when they were allowed again in 2005. Starzen is best known for its scandal of mislabeling cheap cuts of beef as expensive ones.

So, my question is: how is it possible that Creekstone, which is probably the most knowledgeable of beef exporters on how to satisfy the Japanese market, included two spinal columns in one box and that the Japanese government inspectors who examined only 28 of the 810 boxes from Creekstone managed to zero in on that one box?

Astonishing isn't it?
It should be noted, that at the beginning of 2009 there were 2.8 million beef cattle in Japan, 94 million in the US, and 13 million in Canada.

Since 2001, there have been 35 confirmed cases of mad cow in Japan (however there have been many "suspected"cases where the inflected cows appear to have been disposed of, but not tested) 3 in the United States, and 17 in Canada. [More Statistics Here]

The LA Times has a story on this Here.
Centers for Disease Control on BSE Here.

Later: Creekstone says the story was misreported. There were no full spinal columns in the boxes, only neck bone parts. Yeah, whatever.

*my family farm was next to a dairy farm and down the road from a slaughterhouse so I have some familiarity with bovines. I was a 4-Her.

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