17 Mai 2013
May 15, 2013
Editor's note: This is the 11th part of a new series that has run in the past under the title of The Prometheus Trap. This series deals with how pets and livestock fared in the evacuation zone around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The series will appear on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
In May 2011, veterinarian Seido Watanabe of Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, was calling several livestock farmers, telling them, “You don’t have to kill your cattle.”
He made the calls after the government announced on May 12 that it would put down cattle in no-entry zones around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant after obtaining consent from their owners.
Watanabe was originally a veterinarian for “wagyu,” or Japanese cattle. Succeeding his father, he examined more than 1,000 head of cattle a year, the largest number among veterinarians in neighboring areas.
Tomioka town is the site of one of the four livestock markets in Fukushima Prefecture. The average trading prices of calves in the market were the highest in the entire Tohoku region in the 1970s. It was not unusual for a calf to be priced at more than 1 million yen (about $10,000).
As the number of people who worked in the nuclear plants increased, however, the number of people who kept cattle decreased. The market remained as the only livestock one in the eastern part of the prefecture. However, the ranks of livestock farmers decreased as their members aged.
As a result, the number of head of cattle traded at auctions, which are held in the market six times a year, often fell below 200 per auction, a rough minimum standard. The average price per head also fell into the range between 400,000 yen and 450,000 yen.
Watanabe was shifting the focus of his job to examination of pet animals. But his work with cattle held a special meaning for him.
The main job of cattle veterinarians is breeding. The gestation period of female bovines is about 10 months. In order to efficiently breed them, it is necessary to impregnate the cow again within two months after giving birth.
Cooperation with livestock farmers is vital for veterinarians for successful artificial insemination, since they must be notified of signs of the cow's estrus period, which lasts only two days.
The veterinarians give detailed instructions to those farmers on various issues, such as how to give feed to cattle and how to choose sperm. If calves were sold at high prices, the veterinarians shared the joy with the farmers.
“I was thinking that I was responsible for half of the income of the farmers,” Watanabe said.
Farmers trusted Watanabe and would even tell him about problems they were having with their families, such as concerns about their sons' futures or difficulties with their sons’ wives. “My main job with livestock farmers is counseling,” he sometimes thought. Such close ties with farmers became an incentive for him to help them.
On days when cows were likely to give birth, he was summoned by farmers even at midnight. Because of that, he often had to give up going on family trips or even events at his daughters’ schools.
Due to the March 2011 nuclear accident, about 3,500 head of cattle were left behind in the no-entry zones. Until the areas around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant were designated as no-entry zones, Watanabe repeatedly went to some cattle pens there to deliver feed. However, the amount was insufficient, and subsequently, one bovine after another died.
Meanwhile, some cattle began to wander in the no-entry zones. They could escape from their pens because electrified fences were not working due to blackouts or volunteers working for animal protection opened the enclosures.
However, the cattle that left their pens were eventually put down.
Watanabe paid careful attention to the conditions for putting down the livestock—the government “must obtain consent from owners.”
* * *