Thursday, 20 May 2010

Dark days in Japan's beef industry

A dire sense of desperation has fallen across the Japanese beef industry. Foot and mouth disease, which appeared to have been eradicated, has come back on a devastating scale.  The outbreak began before the Golden Week holidays, and emergency measures such as halting livestock movements with in a 10km radius, limiting livestock movement in a 20 km radius, culling all cattle and pigs on affected properties were introduced immediately.    The measures to date have not been effective and the government made a decision yesterday to cull all cattle and pigs with in a 10 km radius.  Reports are saying 200,000 head will be vaccinated against FMD, and then culled to prevent the spread. The numbers of pigs are much greater than cattle; however it is in the cattle industry where the devastation is being most felt.

Miyazaki is one of Japan's most important areas for cattle farming; it has its own premium beef label 'Miyazaki Beef' and is a important centre for cattle breeding.  Almost half of the cattle  from Miyazaki are shipped to other prefectures for fattening as high end beef.  According to Asahi newspaper Miyazaki cattle become much of the the Matsusaka beef of Mie prefecture,  the Omi beef of Shiga prefecture and the Saga beef of Saga prefecture.    The impact on the supply chain  will start to be felt in months.  In the long term, more troubling  than the disruption to the supply of feeder cattle, is the loss of genetics.  The Miyazaki Livestock improvement Association,  which is responsible for developing all the stud bulls for "Miyazaki Beef"  has also been infected. They hope their six "ace" bulls, which currenlty account for 90% of stud bull genetics  have been isolated in time, but the remaining forty nine stud bulls will be slaughtered.   Theres is apparently a years supply of frozen bull semen (I hope they have a generator attached to the freezers....), but the damage is extreme - there is nothing close to a final figure of economic damage, though reports at this stage are of around  $200 US million dollars.  The psychological damage is immeasurable. Herds built up and improved over generations have been killed en masse.  Hiro has dealings with Miyazaki at work, and says people there are completely gutted; carcases are pilling up and farmers feel utterly without hope.  To quote directly 'it's like they are in hell'. With an election coming up, it has become a hot issue - hopefully it means support will be put in place to enable the people and the industry to recover.

The map below is from a branch of the World Health Organisation and shows outbreaks of FMD in Asia since 2009.   It is definitely on the increase. It seems like a lot of research on transmission and prevention is needed.

*** Update - one of the 6 stud bulls has tested positive. 
Foot and mouth disease outbreak

Map of Miyazaki from Wikipedia.

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