Fukushima Cows Stand 70 Centimeters Deep In Their Own Excrement

Halt of crop farming in Fukushima forces manure to accumulate on cattle farms (Mainichi, Nov. 4, 2011):

FUKUSHIMA — Two months after a government ban on beef was lifted, cattle farmers here are growing increasingly desperate as nearby vegetable farmers have halted production due to the ongoing nuclear disaster, leaving nowhere to take the accumulating manure that was previously used as fertilizer.

“When vegetable farmers are pushed into a dead end, there’s a domino effect that puts us into dire straits, too,” says 51-year-old Kazunori Mizunoya, a cattle farmer raising some 600 cows in Nakajima, a village located 70 kilometers from the troubled nuclear power station.

Not only is the fertilizer shed overflowing with manure, the cows in the barn stand in their own excrement nearly 70 centimeters deep. They sometimes shake their massive bodies as if they’re trying to wiggle free.

Cows like to be clean, and suffer high stress levels and illness when kept in unhygienic conditions. Indeed, almost half the cows in Mizunoya’s barn are experiencing deteriorating health.

The area where Mizunoya raises his cattle is home to farms that raised broccoli, tomato and cucumber. Cattle farmers provided vegetable farmers with manure to be used as fertilizer, and in return, vegetable farmers provided cattle farmers with rice straw to be used as cow feed. Mizunoya had built such reciprocal relationships with 10 vegetable farms nearby, supplying them with 1,500 tons of fertilizer ever year, which was used on a total of 30 hectares of farmland every year in March and July.

The nuclear disaster triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami interrupted that cycle, however. Many vegetable farms were forced to forgo planting in the spring, and continued radiation fears prevented many of the farmers from planting summer vegetables as well. This year, none of the farms used fertilizer from Mizunoya’s farm in the spring, and only two of the 10 farms did so in the summer.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) has set the maximum allowable radiation levels for fertilizer at 400 becquerels per kilogram. Since September, the Fukushima Prefecture Government has been running tests at the approximately 3,400 farms in the prefecture raising beef cattle and dairy cows, and advising them to supply fertilizer to crop farmers if radiation levels are below the limit. Mizunoya has not fed any radiation-tainted rice straw to his cattle, and tests show that there are no problems with the fertilizer produced at his farm. He says, however, that there’s been an emerging trend of crop farmers avoiding local fertilizer.

The prefectural government has advised that cattle farmers remove excrement from the cow barns and store it in a separate location. Mizunoya however, has not done so because of the many residences in the vicinity and a fear of causing environmental pollution. According to prefectural officials, many cattle farmers are facing similar conundrums.

The ban that was placed on Fukushima cattle after the discovery of radiation-tainted meat was lifted on Aug. 25. Mizunoya began shipping his cows after they were tested in early September and found to be safe. Fukushima beef cattle attract few customers, however, and prices are half of what they were prior to the nuclear crisis. As a result, Mizunoya ran out of operating funds, and has taken out a loan of over 100 million yen.

“When the mad-cow epidemic took place, I had to borrow money but was able to survive,” Mizunoya says. “This time, though, radiation fears just keep on escalating, and there’s no telling when and how much (the operator of the troubled nuclear power plant) Tokyo Electric Power Co. will compensate us.”

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