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Farmers struggle to keep cows left behind near Fukushima plant

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This photo taken on Aug. 18, 2018, shows cattle farmer Fumikazu Watanabe taking care of a cow on his farm in an area designated by the Japanese government as an evacuation zone in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
 
December 26, 2018
FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Kyodo) — Having disregarded a state instruction to kill cattle left behind in areas near the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, some local farmers have been struggling to keep about 430 cows within a 20-kilometers radius of the complex exposed to radiation.
The instruction was issued two months after fuel meltdowns at the plant in northeastern Japan were triggered by a massive earthquake and a tsunami on March 11, 2011, for about 3,500 cows kept within the area adjacent to the Fukushima Daiichi complex.
Regarding their cows as “family members,” some farmers ignored the instruction, while others who followed it say they still suffer psychologically. The central government allowed cattle breeding in the 20-km zone in 2012, but shipments are still banned.
Keiji Okada, a professor of veterinary science at Iwate University and a researcher of animals exposed to radiation, has been taking blood and urine samples from cows at a couple of farms in the zone to see if there are any genetic abnormalities in them.
One farmer who is cooperating with the research is Fumikazu Watanabe, a 60-year-old local cattle farmer, in the town of Namie, several kilometers from the Fukushima plant.
Watanabe said he wants to protect his 50 cows “until they die a natural death just like human parents protect their children.”
Before returning to Namie in October last year after evacuation orders for some parts of the town were lifted, Watanabe used to shuttle between the farm and his shelter, which was about 50 km away, by applying for special entry permission to take care of his cows.
Radiation levels at Watanabe’s farm stand at 15 to 20 microsieverts per hour, the highest among the seven farms where the 430 cows are kept, but his cows are “so far in perfect health,” Okada said.
“This research is internationally rare and it could be applied to protecting cattle when a nuclear disaster occurs,” he said.
Another farm dubbed “Moo Mow Garden” in the town of Okuma, where the Fukushima plant is sited, is run by Satsuki Tani, 36, who initially worked as a volunteer following the disaster. Eleven cows are still kept at the 6-hectare facility in the community that became a ghost town.
Tani, a former company worker in Tokyo, originally came to Fukushima to protect stray cows after seeing news about cattle starved to death in the disaster-hit areas. She came up with the idea of having the cows, which eat 60 kilograms of grass every day, help to manage and conserve desolate farmland.
The cows released at the farm not only ate the weeds but knocked down a 3-meter-tall scrub and ate its leaves, transforming the deserted farm into a tidy field.
“I was always depressed to see the ruined farm every time I came back for a temporary stay, but now I feel better,” said the farm’s landlady in her 70s.
Tani, who now works part-time at a convenience store to make her living, said she aims to make a business out of her farm project. “I want to maintain the farmland so residents returning to the town in the future will be able to resume farming,” she said.
On the other hand, Kaiichi Shiba, 68, who agreed to abandon his 30 cows in 2013, has regretted his decision. It was tough for him to visit the farm exposed to high levels of radiation from his shelter.
“Yasuhira, Haruka — each of them had a name. It’s like I’ve killed my family,” Shiba said of his cows. “If I could have moved them to a safer place, they would have lived.” But it was impossible because the government prohibited evacuation of the cows outside the 20-km radius to prevent their meat from being marketed.
Shiba, who has evacuated from Namie to the city of Sayama in Saitama Prefecture, about 200 km away from his hometown, said he has yet to find a new motivation in life.
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January 2, 2019 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , | Leave a comment

Ishinomaki beef to be farmed overseas

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A cattle-breeding corporation in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, which was devastated by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, will begin raising about 5,000 beef cattle in Vietnam by the end of this year at the earliest, in collaboration with a state-owned company there.

The Vietnamese company will prepare a ranch and young cattle, and Japanese farmers will provide their expertise in livestock farming.

The Japanese side will be able to receive $3 million (about ¥300 million) annually in consultation fees. It will be a particularly large operation for a move overseas by farmers in a disaster-hit area (see below).

It can be not only post-disaster reconstruction but also a new growth strategy for Japan’s agriculture,” a farming expert said in expectation.

The agricultural corporation that will begin the project in Vietnam is Ushichan Farm Co., one of the largest beef cattle breeders in the Tohoku region. The company now raises about 4,000 beef cattle in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures. It ships out beef rich in fat — called shimofuri — and red meat with less fat.

Tsunami following the tremors washed away cattle barns and about 50 cattle. Due to damage from rumors in the wake of the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, sales in the year after the disaster fell by about ¥500 million. However, workers at the company have improved the quality of beef through such steps as utilizing tablet computers in breeding management.

Its Vietnamese partner is Saigon Agriculture Incorporation (SAGRI), a state-owned firm based in Ho Chi Minh City.

In Vietnam, volumes of beef consumption have been rising along with its economic growth. SAGRI paid attention to the high-level production skills of Japanese beef-producing farmers to improve the country’s production volumes and qualities of beef.

Red-meat-type beef is popular in Japan, so SAGRI asked Ushichan Farm to collaborate and the two sides signed a business partnership contract in August this year.

SAGRI will prepare a 500-hectare ranch, cattle barns and about 5,000 young cattle in Ho Chi Minh City. Ushichan Farm will provide such techniques as breeding management that uses individual identification numbers and how to mix feeds.

After conducting administrative procedures in the country, the Japanese company will begin raising the cattle by the end of this year at the earliest. Beef from the Vietnamese ranch will be sold in local supermarkets and other stores starting around 2018. Sales will be evenly shared by the two corporations.

Eyeing the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, the Japanese side plans to import red meat from the cattle to be raised in Vietnam in the future. Ushichan Farm also aims to prepare for international competition with products from the United States and Australia.

We want to make [the project] an opportunity to send out information about Japan’s livestock industry,” said Kazutaka Sato, 39, senior managing director of Ushichan Farm.

According to an official of the Japan External Trade Organization: “Such a large-scale investment in agriculture in Vietnam is rare. It indicates how high the Vietnamese side’s expectations are.”

Kazunuki Oizumi, a professor emeritus of Miyagi University who is an expert on agricultural economics, said, “Exporting skills and techniques can result in new growth not only in the disaster-hit areas but also in Japan’s agriculture overall.”

Moves overseas by farmers in disaster-hit areas

In coastal areas in Miyagi Prefecture devastated by tsunami, farmers have begun businesses overseas. For example, an agricultural production corporation in the town of Yamamoto has grown strawberries in India since autumn 2012, and farmers in the city of Iwanuma have grown rice in Vietnam since summer 2014. This is partly because exporting products from the prefecture has become difficult, as other countries’ restrictions on imports of farming products from the disaster-hit areas were made stricter in the wake of the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0003275273

October 24, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , , | Leave a comment

Cows in Fukushima Radiation Zone Find New Purpose: Science

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NAMIE, Japan — In an abandoned Japanese village, cows grazing in lush green plains begin to gather when they hear the familiar rumble of the ranch owner’s mini-pickup. This isn’t feeding time, though.

Instead, the animals are about to be measured for how they’re affected by living in radiation — radioactivity that is 15 times the safe benchmark. For these cows’ pasture sits near Fukushima, a name now synonymous with nuclear disaster.

The area was once a haven for agriculture with more than 3,500 cattle and other livestock. Ranchers who refused a government order to kill their cows continue to feed and tend about 200 of them. The herds won’t be used as food; now science is their mission.

Researchers visit every three months to test livestock living within a 20-kilometer (12-mile) radius of the Fukushima plant, where three reactors had core meltdowns after the facility was swamped by a tsunami in 2011. It is the first-ever study of the impact on large mammals of extended exposure to low-level radiation.

The ranchers are breeders, as opposed to those raising cattle to sell for beef, and tend to be attached to their animals. They treat them almost as if they were children, even giving them names. The research gives them a reason to keep their beloved cows alive, and to hope that someday ranching might safely return here.

Under a drizzling rain, doctors and volunteers wearing blue Tyvek protective suits draw the cows into a handmade pen of aluminum pipes. Five to six cows line up in the cage and are tied with a rope around their head and through their nose ring for solid support, so they won’t be hurt when the needle draws blood from their neck.

The gentle beasts moo from discomfort. The doctors work swiftly, drawing blood, collecting urine and checking for lumps or swollen lymph nodes. The check-up takes five minutes or less per cow.

Namie, 11 kilometers (7 miles) northwest of the plant, is a ghost town with no prospect of being habitable for years. But 57-year-old Fumikazu Watanabe comes every day to a ranch to feed 30 to 40 cows owned by seven farmers.

“What is the meaning of slaughtering the cows?” Watanabe said at a worn-out barn where healthy cows used to spend the night tending to their calves. The bones of animals that have died litter the ground outside.

“Keeping the cows alive for research purposes means that we can pass on the study to our next generation instead of simply leaving a negative legacy,” he said.

The research team, made up of veterinary and radiation experts from Iwate University, Tokai University and Kitasato University, was established a year after the meltdowns. They formed a nonprofit group called Society for Animal Refugee & Environment post Nuclear Disaster. Members volunteer to take the blood and urine samples and test them.

In 2012, the Japanese government ordered all livestock in the restricted area killed for fear that the breeding cows would continue to reproduce, and that cows exposed to radiation would have no sale value.

Keiji Okada, associate professor of veterinary medicine and agriculture at Iwate University, said the government considered it pointless to study the animals, since it couldn’t determine how much radiation they were exposed to immediately after the disaster.

Okada disagrees. He said the data will help researchers learn whether farmers can eventually work in affected zones.

“There are no precedent studies of animals being exposed to low-dose radiation, and we have no idea what results we are going to get,” he said. “That is exactly why it needs to be monitored.”

So far, the animals’ internal organs and reproductive functions have shown no significant abnormality particularly linked to radiation exposure, Okada said, but it’s too early to draw conclusions about thyroid cancer and leukemia.

Radiation could cause leukemia, but so could mosquitoes, which have infected cattle around the world with bovine leukemia virus.

“Even if we detect leukemia in the cows, we don’t know whether it’s caused by radiation or if it’s a bovine leukemia from a virus,” Okada said. “It is this year’s objective to be able to differentiate the two.”

Many cows have died during the study period, but food shortages have played a role, making it all the more difficult the doctors to determine causes. The dead cows are dissected and the radiation dosage in their organs is measured.

Is radiation killing the cows, or making them sick? Okada said the research team is working toward reaching a conclusion by March. The team worries that the study results could spark overly broad fears that the region will no longer be habitable or fit for agriculture.

Ultimately, Okada said, the team believes that further monitoring of the animals will show under what conditions it is safe to raise livestock exposed to low-level radiation, and how best to deal with such a leak should it happen again.

Yukio Yamamoto, owner of the large Yamamoto Ranch surrounded by a mountain, a river and a vast plain, travels three hours roundtrip from his temporary home to feed his remaining cows.

Yamamoto initially followed government orders to kill his cattle. He watched a mother cow being killed while a calf was still suckling on its milk, and then the calf following that.

“The cows are my family. How do I dare kill them?” Yamamoto said. “If there is a God, I’m sure some day we would be rewarded for the sacrifice we are making.”

He hopes one day to see his barn come to life again, filled with a hundred cows and calves cared for by his children and grandchildren.

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/09/22/world/asia/ap-as-japan-fukushima-cows.html?_r=0

September 23, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , | 3 Comments

Film focuses on ‘irradiated’ cattle kept alive in Fukushima

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In a scene from “Hibaku-ushi to Ikiru” (Living with irradiated cattle), stray cattle head down a road in the 20-kilometer no-entry zone around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in August 2011.

OSAKA–For some cattle farmers in Fukushima Prefecture, the thought of destroying their herds is too painful to bear even if they are contaminated with radioactive fallout.

A new documentary to be shown here this week records the plight of these farmers, who continue to look after their beef cattle in defiance of a government request to euthanize the animals.

I took on this project because I wanted to capture what is driving farmers to keep their cattle. For all the trouble it is worth, the animals are now worthless,” said Tamotsu Matsubara, a visual director who shot the documentary.

Four years in the making, “Hibaku-ushi to Ikiru” (Living with irradiated cattle) is set for its first screening on Aug. 26 at a local community center in the city.

Matsubara’s interactions with the cattle farmers date to the summer of 2011, a few months after the nuclear crisis unfolded at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11 that year. His assignment was to cover a traditional festival in Minami-Soma, which is located near the stricken nuclear plant.

Matsubara, 57, became acquainted with a farmer caring for more than 300 cattle on his land in the 20-kilometer no-entry zone set by the government. Residents in the zone were ordered to evacuate, but the farmer stayed on to look after his animals.

At that time, the government was seeking to destroy the cattle within the no-entry zone by obtaining their owners’ consent, saying animals that were heavily contaminated with radiation from the nuclear accident could not be sold at market.

But some farmers did not want to put their livestock down.

However, keeping them alive costs 200,000 yen ($2,000) a year in feed per head.

Matsubara became curious why the farmers continued to look after cattle that cannot be sold or bred, despite the heavy economic burden.

He soon began making weekly trips from Osaka to Fukushima to film the lives of the farmers, their cattle and the people around them.

After finishing his regular job in promotional events on Fridays, Matsubara would drive 11 hours to Fukushima and spend the weekend documenting the plight of the farmers before returning to Osaka by Monday morning.

He had 5 million yen saved for the documentary, his first feature film. When the money ran out, Matsubara held a crowdfunding campaign to complete it. Shooting wrapped up at the end of December.

About 350 hours of footage was edited into the 104-minute “Hibaku-ushi to Ikiru.”

The film documents the farmers and their supporters who are struggling to keep the cattle alive.

One couple in the film returns to their land in Okuma, a town that co-hosts the Fukushima plant, to care for their herd. They affectionately named each animal and said it would be unbearable to kill them. Their trips are financed using a bulk of the compensation they received for the nuclear accident.

A former assemblyman of Namie, a town near the plant, tends to his animals while asking himself why he used to support nuclear power.

The documentary also sheds light on scientists who are helping the farmers. The researchers believe that keeping track of the contaminated cattle will provide clues in unraveling how low-level radiation exposure impacts large mammals like humans.

Matsubara said the documentary tells the real story of what is going on with victims of the nuclear disaster.

Not all the farmers featured in the documentary share the same opinion or stance,” Matsubara said. “I would like audiences to see the reality of people who cannot openly raise their voices to be heard.”

Takeshi Shiba, a documentary filmmaker who served as producer of this project, hopes the film will reach a wide audience.

Matsubara broke his back in making this movie,” he said. “I hope that many people will learn what Fukushima people are thinking.”

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201608240067.html

August 24, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , | 1 Comment

Fukushima ranchers honor dead cattle from nuke disaster

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Cattlemen dedicate a monument to livestock that died as result of the 2011 nuclear disaster on April 15, in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture.

TOMIOKA, Fukushima Prefecture–About 170 cattlemen gathered here on April 15 to dedicate a monument to beef cattle that died from starvation or had to be euthanized as a result of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

According to a local livestock cooperative, cattle farming was thriving in the coastal area of Fukushima Prefecture before the disaster unfolded at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011.

Nobuo Nemoto, head of the cooperative, which is based in Futaba, a town that co-hosts the stricken nuclear plant, said he and other cattle farmers will work hard to revive the industry.

“We are facing enormous difficulties, including the aging of farmers and a dent in morale in resuming the industry,” he said. “Despite that, we are hoping to make a fresh start with the ceremony to unveil the monument.”

Although many cattlemen were forced to evacuate and leave their livestock behind, many returned to their farms on occasion to feed and take care of their animals.

But after the government set up a 20-kilometer no-entry zone around the plant on April 22, 2011, the number of cattle that died of starvation on farms near the plant increased dramatically.

The no-entry zone was established to prohibit evacuees and others from entering the area due to high levels of radioactive substances.

The government then instructed the cattle ranchers to have their starving animals euthanized after gaining their consent. By February 2014, about 1,700 head of beef cattle–primarily cows and their calves–were put out of their misery.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201604150102.html

April 15, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , | Leave a comment