We have been closely following the news out of Japan the past few weeks since word got out of an outbreak of the foot-and-mouth virus (FMD) in Miyazaki. We thought the following comprehensive update and timeline of events would be helpful. (Note: the information in this post was collated from the following articles: Click any of them to read further: Mainichi Daily News, Japan Times, Mainichi Daily News (again), Xinhua News, and The Daily Yomiuri.
Miyazaki Prefecture is on the eastern coast of the island of Kyushu in southern Japan. The Wagyu bulls there are used to breed the prefecture’s prized Miyazaki beef, as well as about 15% of all other strains of Wagyu beef Japan-wide.
Miyazaki Prefecture in red (Click Image for Interactive Map
It should be noted right off the bat, that this is a concern for producers of beef only, not consumers. According to The Daily Yomiuri, “Foot-and-mouth disease doesn’t infect humans. Furthermore, beef from infected cattle won’t be on the market. Even if it’s eaten by mistake, it won’t affect your health. Consumers shouldn’t pay attention to rumors [about infected beef].”
An export ban on all Japanese beef is now in place and will likely remain for up to six months or more. According to this article, Wagyu consumers are already looking to Australian and American Wagyu providers to fill the production void.
Timeline of Events
On April 20th FMD is first detected in Miyazaki Prefecture. This is the first instance of FMD in Japan since 740 animals were culled in Miyazaki prefecture and on the northern island of Hokkaido in 2000.
Soon thereafter safety protocols are implemented – such as, the cordoning off of parts of the countryside, thorough disinfecting of all agricultural vehicles, etc. FMD is a highly contagious virus, and so trigger-quick reactions are required to curb the spread from becoming an outbreak. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN has since slammed the Japanese government for what it has deemed a slow response. Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has since admitted as much as well.
By May 13th it is reported that 49 of Miyazaki’s 55 stud bulls are stricken with FMD and earmarked for slaughter. The six remaining top stud bulls are immediately evacuated and quarantined.
To put this into perspective, the two top bulls on the Australian Wagyu Forum website are progeny and sibling, respectively, of one of those remaining quarantined bulls. And at the Wagyu Show that Lone Mountain’s Robert Estrin attended in Tottori a few years ago, the 2nd Prize went to Fukunokuni, also one of the quarantined bulls. These are legend stud bulls in the Wagyu community.
At this point the prefecture commenced vaccination of all livestock within a 10-km radius of farms hit by the disease. The vaccination will slow the spread to healthy animals. All of the roughly 200,000 animals (all cloven-hoof livestock, not just cattle) will be killed after being vaccinated.
On May 21st it is announced that the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry of Japan will pay ¥59,000 to farmers for each slaughtered cow as financial support. That is roughly $650 per slaughtered cow.
On May 22nd it is reported that Tadafuji, the top stud bull of the six left quarantined, has tested positive twice for FMD and will be slaughtered. Normally the remaining five bulls would be slaughtered as well since they were raised in the same cowshed as Tadafuji, but instead the remaining five are on close watch for ten days in a last ditch attempt at saving the Miyazaki legacy.
If the remaining five stud bulls are found to be infected, needless to say they will be slaughtered. There are 150,000 straws of frozen semen from these stud bulls in storage. The prefecture would run through that stored supply within a year. If the remaining five are found to be free of the virus, Miyazaki breeders will be able to extract enough semen from these five to keep the supply up for the foreseeable future.
The Japanese government’s Livestock Breeding Center has about 10 stud bulls from a long line sired by Yasuhira, a legendary stud bull in Miyazaki. It has been reported that the government may give these 10 stud bulls to Miyazaki if their remaining five are found to be infected.