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Published May 18, 2010, 08:50 AM

Japan PM admits fault in handling cattle disease

TOKYO — Japan’s prime minister admitted fault Tuesday in the government’s efforts to contain a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, which is crippling farmers in a southern prefecture known for its prized beef.

TOKYO — Japan’s prime minister admitted fault Tuesday in the government’s efforts to contain a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, which is crippling farmers in a southern prefecture known for its prized beef.

The disease was detected in Miyazaki, southern Japan on April 20. Since then, authorities have killed 60,000 animals — 55,000 pigs and 5,000 cows. Officials in Miyazaki said an additional 50,000 pigs and 4,000 cows are to be killed this week.

The government has been criticized for being too slow to respond to the outbreak — Japan’s first since 2000. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama acknowledged Tuesday the government should have acted sooner in a bid to contain the spreading outbreak.

“I think there are certain problems in terms of having done everything we could to prevent the expansion,” Hatoyama told reporters. He vowed Tokyo would do its utmost, including giving financial assistance to affected farmers.

Foot-and-mouth disease is often fatal for cloven-hoofed animals including cows, sheep, pigs and goats, causing blisters on the mouth and feet. It does not affect humans.

But the outbreak in Miyazaki prompted Japan to suspend all beef exports for at least three months.

The government has set up an emergency task force and is considering spending 100 bil-lion yen ($1.1 billion) to prevent the further spread of the disease and coordinate financial support for affected farmers.

Miyazaki’s beef industry produces “wagyu” cattle, which are world-famous for intricate marbling, tenderness and high prices.

The Miyazaki Livestock Improvement Association, which manages the breeding bulls for the Miyazaki brand of cattle, has evacuated its six most important bulls, which produce nearly all of the semen sold to farmers for artificial insemination. Testing has shown that the six bulls are not infected with foot-and-mouth disease.

Shoji Haneda, president of the central Miyazaki branch of Japan Agricultural Coopera-tives, has estimated that local farmers would lose 16 billion yen ($173 million) because of the outbreak. Reports said economic losses due to the outbreak could amount to 25 billion yen.

Japan exported 565 tons of beef worth $40 million (3.8 billion yen) during the last fiscal year, mostly to Vietnam, Hong Kong and the U.S., according to the agriculture ministry.

In South Korea, authorities have slaughtered thousands of cows since January in its first outbreak of the foot-and-mouth disease in eight years.

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