Japan to cull livestock in nuclear zone

Tokyo – Japan will start culling thousands of cattle and other livestock in the 20km evacuation zone around its stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, the government said today.

Local farmers had to abandon their beef cattle, dairy cows, pigs, chicken and other animals when they were forced to flee the area around the plant after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out its cooling systems.

More than 10 000 cows – once the pride of Fukushima prefecture, prized for their marbled beef and rich milk – were left behind in the scramble to escape, many of them locked in sheds where they starved to death, farmers have said.

Since the tsunami disaster, the plant has leaked radiation into the air, ground and sea, triggering restrictions on local farm and fishery products.

The 20km area has since been declared a legal no-go zone, and tens of thousands of former residents don’t know when they will be allowed to move back into their homes and farms in the picturesque area northeast of Tokyo.

Top government spokesman Yukio Edano said the prefecture would be asked to start killing the animals.

“We have decided to instruct the prefecture to cull livestock within the 20km zone, with the consent of their owners,” said Edano.

“We apologise for the great pain this will cause people who carefully raised them, regardless of the financial compensation provided.”

Footage taken by journalists inside the zone before it was sealed off showed abandoned cows running in small herds across empty roads and along river banks, while dogs and other abandoned household pets were begging for food.

Farmers who quietly returned in the early weeks to feed their animals reported that some young cows had died and been eaten by wild animals.

Thousands of pigs, chicken and other livestock probably also died in their cages or pens with no food or water, one farmer told AFP, while others escaped through switched-off electric fences to roam across fields and through towns.

Edano said the cull was a last resort since owners could not enter the government-imposed no-go zone to feed their animals.

“We have no choice, but, after weighing the options, to pursue the cull.”

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