The government is resisting calls from both the ruling and opposition parties to halt imports of U.S. beef over a case of mad cow disease in California, citing its obligations under trade agreements.
Experts on animal husbandry argue that if the government cannot halt imports, it should at least inspect all beef imported from the U.S. They argue that the government needs to do something to alleviate resurgent public fears, and say careful screening is the most realistic option since it cannot give rise to trade disputes.
The Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has increased the percentage of U.S beef subjected to screening since news of the mad cow disease case broke. On April 25, it announced the proportion of beef screened will rise from 3 percent to 10 percent, the following day to 30 percent, and the next day to 50 percent.
A high-ranking government official said, "We demanded that quarantine authorities inspect 100 percent of U.S. beef but were told that is impossible due to shortage of staff, so we set it at 50 percent instead."
The government is to dispatch a team of nine investigators including academics and representatives of consumer groups and officials from the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the Animal, Plant and Fisheries Quarantine and Inspection Agency to the U.S. on Monday.
They will visit the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine that investigates cases of bovine spongiform encephalitis to review the process. It is unclear whether they will also be able to visit the farm where the disease broke out as visit to a private property requires permission from the farm's owner.