Plagues, Pestilences and Diseases
Foot-and-mouth Disease Outbreak is wiping out Japan's Prized Wagyu Beef
An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in southern Japan is threatening
to wipe out the breeding stock for prized Miyazaki Wagyu beef, which
sells at around £100 per lb.
Julian Ryall in Tokyo
Published: 6:57PM BST 17 May 2010
A slaughterhouse worker looks at Japanese beef
One kilogram (2.2lbs) of top grade beef can wholesale for more than
£220 Photo: CORBIS
More than 110 farms in the Miyazaki region have been quarantined after
livestock have been found to be infected with the disease – the first
time it has occurred in Japan since 2000 – and 85,000 animals have
already been slaughtered or earmarked to be put down.
That figure includes 49 bulls with just six cattle from the region
moved out of the affected districts, according to local agriculture
officials. The surviving bulls have shown no signs of the disease of
yet, their health is being closely monitored.
Miyazaki Wagyu beef has attracted a global following due its flavour,
tenderness and fatty, marbled texture. Entire restaurants are given
over to the delicacy, which is usually prepared as a steak, as thin
strips of meat that are boiled and served with vegetables, or cooked on
a "teppanyaki" hotplate in front of the customer.
One kilogram (2.2lbs) of top-grade beef can wholesale for more than
£220, with a meal in a restaurant an occasion to remember for the
impact on the wallet as much as the taste of the beef.
The Japanese have enjoyed the delicacy for decades but it is only in
the last few years that it has become popular in the rest of the world.
It is now served at top Parisian restaurants and in 2006, Selfridges,
the London department store, introduced the £85 Wagyu sandwich.
Many ranchers feed their cattle beer every day, massage their flanks
with sake, take extreme care in brushing their hides and feed the
beasts on grain fodder. All of which helps to make the meat melt in the
mouth, the experts say.
Around 35 tons of prime meat is exported from Miyazaki every year,
although that trade will be hard hit this year after agriculture
officials halted exports. That ban on exports will be in place for at
least three months.
Authorities have increased their efforts to control the outbreak of
foot-and-mouth disease, with an emergency task force swinging into
action with parts of the countryside cordoned off and agricultural
vehicles required to undergo thorough disinfection procedures.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has vowed to "make the utmost efforts" to
control the spread of the disease and provide compensation for farmers.
He immediately pledged Y100 billion (£752 million) to assist farmers
who are forced to slaughter their livestock.
"We have to create a situation to reassure farmers hit by the disease
and people in Miyazaki Prefecture over this problem," Mr Hatoyama told
reporters on Monday. "We would like to make steady efforts to seek an
early solution through co-operation between the local and central
Experts have been unable to pinpoint the cause of the outbreak, which
was first detected in April 20.
As well as affecting farmers, the outbreak has forced Phoenix Zoo, in
Miyazaki City, to close in order to protect its antelopes, camels and
giraffes from contracting the disease.