English Newsletter

Food Safety Citizens' Watch
English Newsletter

Issue # 1, BSE, food additives July 2005

Food Safety Citizens'Watch was established in April 2003 as a network of experts to monitor developments and make proposals to the government regarding food safety issues from the citizen's point of view.

Each year, an annual assembly of Food Safety Citizens' Watch is held. At the third annual assembly on April 16, 2005, the following appeal with regards to the BSE issue was adopted, directed to the Japanese government's Food Safety Commission:
BSE appeal
Appeal requesting thorough anti-BSE measures and opposing the reopening of American beef imports

1. Concerning BSE there are still many unknown issues. In spite of a legal ban on feed containing meat bone meal, several cases of cows infected with BSE have been discovered in Japan. The cause is not properly known, and further cases are still being discovered.

2. There is a pressing demand for a scientific investigation and thorough expansion of the appropriate preventive measures. Until that is done, it is not in the public's best interest to abolish the blanket testing of all Japanese cattle, or to reopen the import of U.S. beef.

3. The decision to use visual inspections to determine the age and safety of U.S. beef cannot be deemed satisfactory, and imports should not be allowed. In our opinion, scientific appraisal and strict surveillance is required. There are also whistle-blowing reports and other expert evaluations that point out that the U.S. is not implementing sufficient BSE measures.

4. To blindly follow the strong demands of the sellers, is contradicting the government's duty to listen to the demands of the Japanese consumers.
Trading away food safety: 20 BSE cases in Japan and only two in the US?*
On May 6, 2005, Japan's Food Safety Commission indicated that blanket BSE testing rules in Japan may be eased. Currently all cows must be tested, but the new rules propose that only cows 21 months or older will be included in the government's mandatory testing regime. However, public comments from consumers strongly urge the government to maintain the blanket testing regime for at least another three years. It is obvious that changing the domestic testing rules is a way to re-open the Japanese market, so that American beef can be imported again.

One serious issue is the removal of specified risk material (SRM) such as spinal cord from the carcasses of the young cows. This domestic rule has been discussed in depth this spring. However, we have to point out that the consequences of the deliberations are not limited to domestic beef. Are the rules really effective? Can the beef industry really be trusted to follow the rules? Consumers who demand safe food feel that the Japanese government should take into consideration other issues, such as strict surveillance of the SRM rules as well as effective feed controls, not only in Japan but in the U.S. as well, before domestic rules are changed. Under global trade rules, a country is not allowed to impose stricter rules on imported products, as that would be considered a barrier to trade. By easing the domestic rules, the Japanese government is actually making it impossible to continue to restrict imports.

To protect consumers, the strict Japanese BSE blanket testing standard should become the global standard.@Japan has found 20 cases of cows infected with BSE, while the U.S. has only found two such cases. By not testing all cows, the U.S. has been hiding the extent of its BSE problem. They have simply been waiting until older cows with a higher BSE risk have died, without testing them. While national governments struggle with surveillance and testing for BSE in national herds, they cannot make sure that imported meet is safe.

What is worse is that the exporting countries are also attempting to win the battle by a very clever strategy that makes stricter domestic rules virtually impossible. This was achieved by manipulating international standards in an obscure international group called World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). During its May 22-27, 2005 meeting, OIE, the intergovernmental standard-setting organisation for animal health and zoonoses, has made important changes to its BSE rules. OIE is heavily influenced by beef- exporting countries such as the U.S. and Canada.

OIE standards are not strictly binding, but under the World Trade Organization Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, only domestic legislation that is in line with international standards will be considered compatible with WTO rules. This means that if a country wishes to adopt more stringent measures, then it must prove that they are scientifically justifiable. The OIE standards are thus virtually binding, as an exporting country would immediately argue that other rules are trade barriers.

The new OIE rules will allow trade of boneless beef and so-called "deboned skeletal muscle meat". This is a type of red meat that can be used in sausages and hamburgers. It is also called mechanically deboned meat, as the meat is removed from the bone with high pressure, but it has been shown to also include nerve tissue, spinal cord and bone marrow. Some food companies actually have policies stating that they do not use deboned meat, but such policies are not binding, and cannot be controlled. In addition, the new OIE rules will allow trade of blood products from cattle of all ages.

Previously, OIE recognized five categories of BSE risk, but at the controversial meeting, rules were simplified and streamlined into a three-category system. The new OIE risk classification system has the following categories for beef-producing countries:

1) negligible risk
2) controlled risk
3) undetermined risk

These OIE rules that were adopted at the May 2005 meeting will make it easier for countries with BSE cases to resume trade of its beef. The new OIE rules are cleverly designed so that importing countries should not inspect imported beef. If the exporting country demonstrates that it meets certain requirements so that it can be considered a "controlled-risk" country, then its beef should not be restricted by domestic rules in the importing country. The new OIE rules are vague and ambiguous, and do not demand blanket testing of all cows, but rather a surveillance system designed to make international trade easier. In spite of consumer concerns about food safety, the profit-driven globalization of food trade is threatening our food security and lives.
Approval of new antibiotics as food additive
At its May 6, 2005 meeting, the Food Safety Commission approved Natamycin, an antibiotic, as a food additive. Natamycin is a macrolide type antibiotic used for certain diseases, especially fungal infections. Because it obstructs growth of mold and yeast, it is used in Europe to preserve hard, semi-hard, and semi-soft cheeses. With this controversial approval, Japan might be heading for problems with the medical use of this or related macrolide antibiotics, although the risk is said to be extremely small.

In fact, the trend today is on reducing antibiotics in food production. The general issue of antibiotic resistant bacteria is recognized as a very serious matter. The approval of yet another antibiotic in food production ignores this trend. It indicates that trade concerns outweigh food safety issues, and that consumers' safety concerns have been sacrificed.

(Copyright FSCW August 2005)

Food Safety Citizens' Watch
c/o Consumers Union of Japan
Nikken Bldg.
75 Waseda-machi, Shinjuku-ku
Tokyo 162-0042, Japan
URL: http://www1.jca.org/foodsafety

Food Safety Citizens' Watch Newsletter
Back number opening article (Japanese language only):
No.1"Protecting our safety"
No.2"Making our voice heard at the Food Safety Commission"
No.3"Health food problems"
No.4"Is this really OK?"
No.5"Understanding the food safety concept"
No.6"Central government bureaucrats are not doing anything"
No.7"Illegal use of the food additive Nycin 2"