Fifteen prefectures across the nation are in the process of implementing or are planning to implement checks on all beef cattle for radioactive substances, according to a survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun.
Local governments and agricultural organizations in the prefectures are taking the measures as fear of beef contaminated with radioactive cesium spreads across the nation.
The survey also found that if checks on all cattle are conducted in the prefectures, shipments will likely drop to about 25 percent of their usual level.
The survey results indicated a situation in which many local governments have been forced to adopt the measures for fear of damage to the meat industry due to a lack of public faith in the safety of beef produced in the regions.
The Ibaraki prefectural government suddenly decided to implement the checks on Thursday. Prior to that, Gov. Masaru Hashimoto had said, “Checking all cattle is impossible.”
A prefectural government official said of the about-face: “Though they’re from the same prefecture, beef that received voluntary checks is priced at 2,000 yen per kilogram, while untested beef is priced at 1,300 yen. Considering this price gap, we have no choice but to implement the checks.”
The Tochigi prefectural government also decided on Thursday to conduct checks on all beef cattle.
A prefectural government official said, “Given that our neighboring prefecture has announced it will [impose the checks], we have no choice but to do so as well.”
The Gunma prefectural government announced its decision on Wednesday to adopt the check system, with an official saying, “It’s an enormous problem if beef from our prefecture cannot sell.”
Meanwhile, research by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has found that rice straw suspected to be contaminated with radioactive cesium was circulated in 16 prefectures.
In 14 of them, checks on all cattle have already been implemented or planned. In Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, where cattle shipments have been banned, the prefectural governments plan to introduce the checks after the restriction is lifted.
The Ishikawa prefectural government is also considering imposing the checks, though the circulation of contaminated rice straw to the prefecture has not yet been confirmed.
The Chiba prefectural government has decided it will check at least one cow from every livestock farm in the prefecture.
The implementation of the checks, however, faces problems such as a shortage of equipment and staff. As a result, the number of cattle shipped from the prefectures will inevitably decline.
Of the prefectures that plan or have begun the checks on all cattle, the Shizuoka and Ishikawa prefectural governments said it remains uncertain whether they have the capability to conduct the checks on all cattle.
In the other 13 prefectures, meat processing plants can process about 2,200 cows a day. But they can only check 600 of the cows for radiation a day.
The situation is especially severe in Hokkaido. Though the prefecture is capable of processing 880 cows daily, only five a day can be checked for radiation.
In Aomori Prefecture, concerned officials said that if the checks are conducted on all cattle, only four will be shipped daily, though the prefecture has the capacity to ship 150.
Mie Prefecture, which is home to the production facilities of its luxury beef brand Matsusaka-ushi, is also considering whether to adopt the check system.
The prefecture can normally process about 100 cows a day. With only three germanium semiconductor detectors, however, a mere 17 cows can be tested on a daily basis.
A prefectural government official said: “If the cattle checks are implemented, livestock farmers will have to hold off on shipments. As prices of feed are high, this will be a blow to livestock farmers.”
The cost of the checks is also a concern. The JA group in Shizuoka Prefecture ships more than half the beef cattle from the prefecture. The group contracts the radiation checks out to private companies at a cost of about 20,000 yen per cow.
A JA official said: “It’s too much of a financial burden on us if we have to pay [for the checks]. We’ll demand compensation from Tokyo Electric Power Co.”
The government has not presented practical measures to cover the cost of the radiation checks, though Takashi Shinohara, senior vice minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, has said, “The government will assist prefectures wishing to implement the checks on all cattle.”