The essay aims to investigate the issue of Bovine Spongy Encephalitis (BSE) in Japan, with particular emphasis on the meat traceability system adopted by the Japanese regulatory authorities and its implications for the Japanese food markets, its beef industry, and the hospitality industry.
Presumably written in late 2005 or early 2006, some three years after BSE reared its head in Japan, the essay attempts to trace the events that led to the BSE scare in Japan and the responses adopted by the state and industry to cope with market and customer apprehensions. Essays, on specialised subjects like these, need to have reader friendly, grammatically correct structures that guide curious lay people through the complexities of unfamiliar issues in sequential logical steps; such efforts should be well researched, evidence clarity about the subject at hand, make good use of language skills and engage reader interest in the main and allied themes.
BSE, better known as mad cow disease, emerged first in the UK in 1986, its manifestation in cattle being associated with a number of logical, as well as fanciful theories that included (a) force feeding of cattle, animals that are normally herbivorous, with meat or bone meal from semi-sterilised cadavers, and (b) import of meat meal, contaminated with human meat, from India (Jones, 2001)! Related to the presence of a misfolded protein called Prion in the brain tissues of cattle, BSE is known to make the brain of a cow a bloody mass of spongy tissue, followed by the certain death of the affected animal (Jones, 2001). Worryingly it is also known to infect humans who consume BSE tainted products (Jones, 2001). The disease first showed up in commercially reared livestock in the UK, and has since then been associated with more than 150 human deaths in the UK alone; its occurrence in the United States led to panic in Japan, a major importer of US beef, and thereafter to a number of protective and regulatory steps by the Japanese for ensuring the safety and quality of beef consumed in the country (Nottage, 2004).
Whilst such background information would have been particularly relevant for establishing the importance of the topic, especially in light of the levels of global panic generated by the outbreak of BSE in the early 2000s, there is little of it in the essay; the author preferring to commence the study directly with the detection of the first BSE case in Japan in 2001 and the events that followed. With much effort having been given to providing technical details about Creutzfeldt – Jakob disease, (CJD) and its new variant, in the appendices to the essay, some elementary information about Prion, established to be the root cause of BSE, the substantial loss of human life, and the worldwide concern that arose, post the emergence of the disease, would have helped in driving home the need for governments to adopt stern regulatory measures and in putting the Japanese regulatory efforts in their proper perspective. Ford’s book on the risks posed by BSE to mankind, which has otherwise been included by the author in the references, provides a graphic account of the dangers of BSE and the essay would have been well served by the inclusion of some of the highlighted risks.
Japanese consumers, being mature, informed, and mindful, of the need for food quality and security, are more than ready to pay for products associated with high quality and safety. With the Japanese also being substantial consumers of imported meat, efforts to guarantee the quality and safety of beef are of special significance to the Japanese hospitality industry and to global suppliers of beef to Japan like the United States and Australia.
A series of local and international food safety predicaments having increased the significance of meat safety among Japanese consumers, the essay attempts to describe the new policies and systems being taken by Japanese regulators, the Japanese beef industry, and market players to guarantee beef supplies for the hospitality industry and ensure the introduction and implementation of methods for making beef consumption safe. The author traces the evolution of regulatory efforts for ensuring the safety and quality of beef in Japan in detail; the attempt is researched and makes use of online sources and journal and magazine articles.
The beef traceability law was introduced in Japan in 2003 to track animals from birth to slaughter to better deal with animal diseases (Yoshimatsu, 2006) and the author takes painstaking effort to detail the circumstances that led to its enactment, the attitudes of Japanese consumers towards food safety, and assurance systems introduced at supermarkets to enable customers to find out more about their beef purchases. Again, with beef constituting a significant portion of the menu of Japanese restaurants, hospitality industry people are expectedly desirous of obtaining safe and certified beef. The paper accordingly discusses Japan’s preoccupation with food safety crises and a number of consumer assurance programs already in use in retail outlets.
The essay appears to digress in the middle, and whilst starting with the system of traceability of Japanese beef, shifts its attention to the advantages and disadvantages of various consumer assurance programmes, the nuts and bolts of the Japanese Agricultural Standards, and the size of printing on packaged food, before reverting to the issue of traceability. The effort highlights a number of existing deficiencies in the food tracking system and the apathy of the government and the hospitality sector in filling in these gaps, mostly because of cost and expediency issues, and it would well be worthwhile for policymakers to take account of the concerns of the author.
Informative in the amount of material it packs in the body of the essay and its appendices, the effort nevertheless suffers from a loose and rather incoherent structure and appears to be a list of points about BSE, the traceability of meat products in Japan, and some features about quality assurance measures, rather than a well threaded and logical essay on the challenges facing the hospitality business, beef consumers and the meat industry. The author would benefit by making the essay a tighter and more subject focussed affort.
The effort would also have been better served by some more efficient editing, sentence construction, and better suited use of language and of grammar. The appendices are nicely prepared. Whilst the list of references is extensive, much of it appears to be unused in the essay and probably forms the background reading of the author.
Word Count: 1070
Bren, L, (2002, May/June), FDA Continues Work to Help Prevent Mad Cow Disease. FDA Consumer, 36, 31+
Expanded Plan to Combat Mad Cow Disease, (2002), Journal of Environmental Health, 64(7), 51+
Japan Set to Resume Trade with America, (2004, October 27), The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), p. 16
Jones, K. E, (2001), BSE, Risk and the Communication of Uncertainty: A Review of Lord Phillips’ Report from the BSE Inquiry, Canadian Journal of Sociology, 26(4), 655+
Mad Cow, Mad Policy. (2004, January 26). The Nation, 278, 3
Motavalli, J, (2002, January/February), The Case against Meat: Evidence Shows That Our Meat-Based Diet Is Bad for the Environment Aggravates Global Hunger, Brutalizes Animals and Compromises Our Health. E, 13, 26+
Motavalli, J., & Rembert, T. C. (1998, May/June), The Trouble with Meat. E, 9, 28+
Nottage, L, (2004), Product Safety and Liability Law in Japan: From Minamata to Mad Cows. New York: Routledge
Popper, D. E, (2007), Traceability: Tracking and Privacy in the Food System. The Geographical Review, 97(3), 365+
Prugh, T, (2004, July/August), Too Much Mad-Cow Safety?. World Watch, 17, 11
Shell, E. R, (1998, September), Could Mad-Cow Disease Happen Here, Britain’s Horrifying Experience Taught Us a Few Things, but Perhaps Not Enough to Preclude an Outbreak of Our Own. The Atlantic Monthly, 282, 92-496
Sly, T, (2004), BSE: What Have We Learned after 18 Years? Journal of Environmental Health, 66(10), 40
U.S. Will Pressure Japan to Buy Beef; Mad Cow Issue Called Resolved. (2004, April 23). The Washington Times, p. C09
Yoshimatsu, H. (2006), The Politics of Japan’s Free Trade Agreement, Journal of Contemporary Asia, 36(4), 479