JAPAN | 11 prefectures decide to test all beef cattle for radiation; expected to cost 4 billion yen ($50 million)

Posted on July 28, 2011

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JAPAN | MAINICHI | 28 July 2011

Beef cows are pictured on July 10 at a livestock farm in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Minamisoma where radioactive cesium has been detected. (Mainichi)

Beef cows are pictured on July 10 at a livestock farm in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Minamisoma where radioactive cesium has been detected. (Mainichi)

Eleven prefectures have decided as of July 27 to test all beef cattle for radiation contamination after radioactive cesium above the allowable level set by the central government was detected in cattle in some prefectures, and total costs for the measures are expected to reach around 4 billion yen, the Mainichi learned.

The 11 prefectures include Yamagata and Shizuoka, which have already started to test beef cattle for radiation contamination. The central government is reluctant to conduct such tests on all beef cattle across the country except for some parts of Fukushima Prefecture, but eight other prefectures are considering testing all beef cows. A heated debate is likely to emerge on who should shoulder the costs for radiation tests.

Japan first started to test all beef cattle in 2001 after several cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as “mad-cow disease,” were discovered in the country. The tests helped restore consumer confidence in beef. But cesium tests are more complex than those for BSE, and there are only a limited number of measuring instruments.

Although tests on all beef cattle are being conducted mainly by prefectural governments, local chapters of the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA) in Tochigi and Shizuoka prefectures are conducting such tests on beef cattle kept by member farmers. The cost of testing one beef cow amounts to about 20,000 yen. The number of beef cows that are subject to such tests is at least about 190,000, and if all of them were to be tested, it would cost about 4 billion yen.

The costs will be paid temporarily by prefectural governments and cattle farmers. But the Miyagi Prefectural Government, which announced on July 27 that it would start testing on Aug. 1, made clear that it would seek damages from Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO). JA offices in Yamagata and Tochigi say they will follow suit. Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida said, “We would like to deal with it after thinking of who should essentially pay for the tests.”

A cow is fed straw at a cattle farm on July 15 in Asakawa, Fukushima Prefecture, which was found to have fed cows radioactive cesium-contaminated straw. (Mainichi)

A cow is fed straw at a cattle farm on July 15 in Asakawa, Fukushima Prefecture, which was found to have fed cows radioactive cesium-contaminated straw. (Mainichi)

In the meantime, some of the eight prefectures including Aomori, Osaka and Kagoshima, which are considering testing all beef cattle for radiation contamination, are worried about the possibility of the measures restricting shipments because they cannot secure testing systems fast enough. An official of the cattle promotion department at the Hokkaido Prefectural Government said, “There are only two measuring instruments available and it takes three to four hours to test one beef cow. Considering the number of beef cows to be shipped, it is difficult to test all beef cattle.” Eikei Suzuki, governor of Mie Prefecture, known for its “Matsusaka beef” brand, one of the top brands in Japan, said, “We want to make a final decision by the end of this month.”

The central government decided on July 27 to order the suspension of all shipments of beef cattle from Miyagi Prefecture under the Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness. The government has been discussing with the Miyagi Prefectural Government about inspection systems and criteria for lifting the order. The government is set to give the instruction to Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai as early as July 28. Miyagi will be the second prefecture to ban all shipments of beef cattle after Fukushima. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and other groups, 1,031 beef cows were shipped from Miyagi Prefecture after being fed rice straw contaminated with radioactive cesium.

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