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AGRICULTURE REPORT - Mad Cow Disease in Japan

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This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Japanese officials are struggling to prevent the spread of mad cow disease. Japan's first case of mad cow disease was reported in September. The Agriculture Ministry confirmed last month that a second cow was infected. Japan is the only country in Asia where mad cow disease is known to have spread.

The disease is officially known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or B-S-E. It causes holes in the brain. Cows act strangely before they die. So it is called mad cow disease.

Scientists believe cows get the disease by eating meat and bone meal from infected animals. Since September, Japan has banned imports and use of feed made from animal remains. Recently, the Agriculture Ministry announced plans to destroy about five-thousand cows that may have been given the feed.

Sales of Japanese beef products have dropped sharply in the past three months. Since October, Japanese officials have tested all cows that are killed for their meat. Some scientists question the testing. They say the disease often cannot be identified in young animals.

Scientists believe eating infected meat may cause a similar brain disease in humans. This deadly disease is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. It cannot be cured.

About one-hundred people in Europe have died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in recent years. Most of them have been in Britain.

Until recently, some experts have estimated that the total number of deaths from eating infected beef could be as high as one-hundred-thirty thousand. However, two new reports say there will be fewer deaths than earlier estimated. Science magazine reported the findings.

The reports say the total number of deaths from the disease may be as low as two-hundred.

Researchers from France used a computer program to make their estimate. They say their study is based partly on a better understanding of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. They also say evidence shows that young people are more likely to become infected. In Britain, the average age of those who died is twenty-eight. Only a few victims were older than fifty. From this evidence, the team says the probability of a person becoming infected decreases with age.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.

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