Sat, 27 Dec 2003

Impact of mad cow report played down

Sari P. Setiogi and A. Junaidi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The temporary ban on beef imports from the United States due to a report of mad cow disease will have little impact on Indonesia's hotel and restaurant business, a businesswoman says.

"We will follow the government policy suspending U.S. beef imports. No hotels and restaurants will use U.S. beef in their cooking temporarily," chairwoman of the Indonesian Hotels and Restaurants Association (PHRI) Yanti Sukamdani Hardjoprakoso told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

"Only a few dishes need U.S. beef and can be altered. For sirloin and tenderloin steaks, we can use Australian or even local beef," Yanti said.

She said that way before the mad cow disease report in the U.S., Indonesia had switched its beef imports to countries such as Australia and New Zealand and even used local products as the prices were more reasonable.

"Indonesians, as well as other Asians, eat more chicken and fish than red meat. I don't believe mad cow disease will have a large impact on consumers," she said.

Yanti said she believed that U.S. beef importers and suppliers would understand the situation.

"It might have a serious impact on U.S. beef grill restaurants, but they are small in number. I also believe that if they ultimately decide to switch to non-U.S. beef, consumers will understand," she said.

Separately, Pos Hutabarat, director general of international trade at the Ministry of Industry and Trade told the Post that Indonesia would retain the ban until the United States could prove its beef was safe for consumption.

Indonesia joined more than a dozen countries in slapping a temporary ban on U.S. beef imports after the United States confirmed its first case of mad cow disease.

Indonesia's decision followed confirmation by a British laboratory on Thursday that a Holstein cow in Washington state had the brain-wasting disease known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.

BSE eats holes in the brains of cattle. It ravaged Europe's cattle industry in 2001 and is thought to cause the fatal variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans who eat infected meat.

Other countries that have temporarily banned U.S. beef include China, Thailand, Malaysia, Russia, South Africa, Jamaica, Chile, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Mexico.

Meanwhile, the director for animal transmitted diseases of the Ministry of Health, Thomas Suroso, claimed that a team consisting of experts from various government institutions was currently researching mad cow disease.

"Yes, we are conducting research in some places. We have taken several samples," Thomas told the Post, adding that team members included experts from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture.

However, he refused to mention details of the research or when it would be completed.

Thomas explained that the disease was caused by a kind of protein called prion found in the brain or meat of an infected cow. There have been no cases of mad cow disease reported in Indonesia.

He said if a contaminated cow's brain or meat was eaten by humans, it could degenerate and damage the human brain cells in the long term.

"The incubation period of the disease could be 20 years. So the disease is not immediately detectable in humans," he said.