The media has it all wrong on Miyazaki Prefecture’s foot-and-mouth disease, argues Shukan Post (June 11). Bearing the brunt of the blame since the crisis erupted in late April has been farm minister Hirotaka Akamatsu, while Gov Hideo Higashikokubaru has largely gotten away with casting the prefecture and local authorities as innocent victims. That’s a sleight of hand worthy of the comedian Higashikokubaru used to be, the magazine implies.
The epidemic is devastating Miyazaki’s wagyu beef industry. As of May 25, by Shukan Post’s count, 148,000 cows and pigs – including 49 stud bulls – had been slaughtered, with the toll expected to rise to 300,000 before the dust settles.
Is this a natural disaster, or a human one? Akamatsu’s apology on May 25 suggests the latter, but what precisely he was apologizing for was left vague, while Higashikokubaru seems to be citing the prefecture’s having been caught unawares as proof of innocence. Shukan Post is not convinced.
First of all, it maintains, the Livestock Infectious Disease Prevention Law assigns prevention responsibility not to the central government but to the prefecture. Secondly, the supposed first act of the Miyazaki drama, the April 9 discovery of a sick cow on a farm in Tsuno Town, was not really the beginning after all; 10 days earlier a water buffalo showed symptoms that should have warned of what was in the wind. Thirdly, the mysterious spread of the disease from Tsuno to Ebino, 70 km away, begs the question of a connecting link, which the magazine claims to find in a company called Agura Bokujo, owner of pasture land in both places. Might Agura’s alleged political connections have earned it a tacit inspection exemption?
The sick cow noticed on April 9 caused no immediate alarm, but when a second cow owned by the same farmer showed similar symptoms a week later, the farmer had tests performed, which on April 20 diagnosed foot and mouth disease. Why, however, did a water buffalo’s fever and diarrhea, noted on March 31, fail to generate preventive measures? The buffalo’s foot and mouth disease wasn’t confirmed until April 23. Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology professor Atsushi Shirai, a specialist in livestock diseases, acknowledges that foot and mouth disease is hard to diagnose. He adds, however, that the notorious Taiwan outbreak in 1997, which required a cull of 3.85 million pigs, should have kept prefectural regulators more alert than they apparently were to the possibility.
If the buffalo’s symptoms had been correctly interpreted in time, the ensuing catastrophe could have been averted.
Agura Bukujo, Shukan Post’s link between the two widely separated centers of the outbreak, is a company that owns grazing land and undertakes the pasturing of local farmers’ livestock. “Agura owns 15 pastures in Miyazaki Prefecture,” the magazine hears from an unnamed “local political insider.” “It seems Agura was invited into the prefecture by a Miyazaki Diet rep, a Liberal-Democratic Party heavyweight. So it may be” – or may not be – “that inspectors went easy on them.”© Japan Today