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Denial Is a River in Japan

February 4th, 2005

Japan’s treatment of the Mad Cow Disease phenomenon is becoming increasingly similar to how the media in this country reacted to the AIDS outbreak in the 80’s: it’s a foreign problem. I recall a case in the 80’s where a Japanese callgirl (from Kobe, I believe) died of AIDS. The stories were all over the press: she got it from her foreign boyfriend. Despite the fact that she slept with a great many men over many years, and despite the fact that she met her boyfriend not too many years before dying of the disease (not enough to make it likely he was the source), there was almost universal agreement in the domestic media that it must have been that European guy. AIDS was a foreign disease, and this was proven by how few Japanese got it–though since it was a shameful disease, whenever someone died of it, the doctor protected the family from stigma and shame by certifying the death as caused by the opportunistic disease that finished the patient off and not the syndrome itself, thus skewing the numbers to prove an “AIDS-free” country.

Well, here we go again, this time with Mad Cow Disease. I’ve already pointed out how Japan’s ban on American beef is rather irrational, since America has had only one case and that cow came from Canada, while Japan has had fifteen purely domestic cases (the most recent just a few months ago), and on the first one in 2001, they even sent the carcass to be turned into cattle feed after the diseased cow had been diagnosed–but Japanese beef remains as freely sold as ever.

But now comes the story that the first case of the disease variant in humans has taken its toll: this week a Japanese man died from Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease, and although there is no evidence to show where he got it, Japanese doctors are now all but certain that he must have contracted the disease in Britain because he stayed there for one month three years ago. No matter that the disease has been rampant in Japan the past four years, where he likely ate 98% of all the beef he consumed during that period. It must have been the 2% of beef from England that killed him. Well, when pressed, the Japanese doctors admitted that it is possible he got the disease from eating Japanese beef, and ministry “experts” will continue to “investigate.” Meanwhile, this death, while having nothing to do with U.S. beef, reportedly may hold up Japan’s decision to start importing U.S. beef again. Talk about using any excuse!

In the meantime, I continue to avoid Japanese beef….

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  1. Ron
    February 5th, 2005 at 19:11 | #1

    According to all the reports I’ve read, this 51-yr-old guy is said to have gotten the disease while on a 1-month visit to Britain in 1989. It was in December 2001 when he first started showing symptoms (e.g., being “irritated”!).

    Minor discrepancy from what you’ve written, but still, except for some possible statistical likelihood that he got it in the UK (only because they’ve had more cases made public of both cows and humans contracting the disease), this guy’s had plenty of time to have consumed possibly tainted beef in Japan. I agree, it sure looks like another pass-the-buck whitewash by the Japanese govt. (And I still believe that the US has had cases too but won’t admit it, with all of them being diagnosed as Alzheimers or some other cause. The US beef industry, with govt help, is simply too, too powerful to dismiss without scrutiny.)

    And isn’t interesting that only AFTER this case has been made public does the govt here announce that they’re going to tighten up their surveillance of the disease. Why is it in Japan that they nearly always wait until something tragic happens before doing what they should have done long ago as part of public safety and precaution? Pretty pathetic, if you ask me.

  2. Luis
    February 5th, 2005 at 20:56 | #2

    More than anything else, I think they’re going all-out to protect the domestic meat market. If they aren’t able to make it seem like another country’s beef was responsible, then the Japanese people will see their own country’s beef as tainted–and the local beef industry will collapse. So instead they try to make it look like it was Britain, or America, or anywhere else but Japan.

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