Beta Burns on Fukushima cattle ignored by Japanese officials
Channel News Asia

29 Aug 2013

Two years ago, Channel NewsAsia obtained footage from within Japan’s 20 km Fukushima exclusion zone featuring a farmer who defied government orders to exterminate his cattle. While residents are now being allowed to return, nothing has been said about the changes now seen on the cattle

JAPAN: The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown taught the world that long-term radiation exposure can cause DNA and immunological changes in living organisms.

Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, farmer Masami Yoshizawa kept his cattle alive to monitor changes due to prolonged radiation exposure. Now, mysterious white spots on the fur and skin are appearing on 10 of his Japanese black cattle.

As revelations about continued problems around the nuclear plant emerged, it should be a major concern for Japan’s agricultural business. But so far, nothing has been said about the issue.

Kazuo Suzuki, the Ministry of Agriculture official responsible for livestock within the 20 kilometre exclusion zone, was informed of the white spots by Mr Yoshizawa when he visited Mr Yoshizawa’s farm in December 2012.

However, when he was asked about the visit, he claimed that he did not remember seeing the white-spotted cows and explained that the cows should be tested by the Livestock Hygiene Service Centre and not the Ministry of Agriculture.

Local farmers however disagree, saying they were told by the Fukushima prefectural officials that all such investigations fall under the Ministry of Agriculture’s authority.

There is a lot at stake and to admit the existence of these cows would only invite greater attention to the problem, with a possibly devastating effect on the trade of Fukushima livestock.

When it comes to radiated land, air and sea, drawing a 20km exclusion line is as arbitrary as having a smoking section on an aeroplane. But in 2012, despite the nuclear disaster in the prefecture, beef from Fukushima was still the fifth most traded and shipped at Japan’s biggest beef market in Tokyo.

Toshimitsu Matsubara, a veterinarian with experience in the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown, is eager to have the animals tested.

Dr Matsubara, who is also the president of the BBB Beef Association, said: “What is happening now {with these cows} is extremely important. Japan has to think of what to do with this problem.”

Instead, the government continues to ease restrictions around Fukushima while serious problems continue to be exposed. The recent threat level from 300 tones of toxic waste that leaked into the Pacific Ocean was raised from level 1 to a level 3 — a “serious incident”.

As the human population warily returns to Namie town, no one knows for certain what is happening to the cows on Mr Yoshizawa’s Pasture of Hope. And Fukushima’s agriculture officials, apparently, prefer not to find out.

– CNA/ac

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