Japan Confirms First Foot-And-Mouth Outbreak in Decade; Cattle Slaughter

Japan confirmed an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease at a farm in the southern prefecture of Miyazaki, the first outbreak since 2000 in the country that is famous for premium beef.

A final test by the National Institute of Animal Health on three cows suspected of contracting the disease at the farm were positive, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said in a statement today on its Web site. It has imposed a ban on beef exports since April 20.

Since finding the first suspected case, Japan has reported three more at nearby farms. The virus is one of the most contagious animal diseases and can have high mortality rates in young animals, according to the World Organization for Animal Health, or OIE. Eating infected meat doesn’t harm humans.

“The outbreak may have little impact on the Japanese beef market, including demand,” said Susumu Harada, senior director at the U.S. Meat Export Federation in Tokyo. Still, “exporters of meat and by-products may have difficulty as the country banned exports.”

Japanese consumers are not that concerned about the outbreak as the government has been reiterating that meat from infected cows is safe, Harada said. The ministry has restricted movement of animals and local authorities have been slaughtering cattle at the farms and disinfecting the area, it said.

Export Ban

Japan exported 594 metric tons of beef from April 2009 to February 2010 and imported 432,613 tons. Export markets for Japan’s premium beef include Vietnam, Hong Kong, the U.S. and Singapore, according to ministry data.

So-called “wagyu” meat, also known as Kobe-style beef, is known for its flavor and tenderness and is often priced at a premium to other cuts.

“This won’t cause big damage to the livestock industry,” said Hiroyuki Kikukawa, general manager of research at Tokyo- based IDO Securities Co., highlighting the limited impact of the last outbreak. Still, “we may see some impact on animal- feed demand,” Kikukawa said.

Japan’s last outbreak of the disease was in 2000, when the country slaughtered 740 cattle, according to Katsumi Yorita, deputy director at the ministry’s livestock industry policy planning division.

In April 2000, Souichi Kagawa, then executive director of the Japan Livestock Industry Association, said Japan’s first outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 92 years had been contained and caused little damage to the country’s 500 billion yen ($4.8 billion) domestic beef industry.

In South Korea, the farm ministry said yesterday that two cases were found at a pig farm in Chungju, south of Seoul, indicating the virus has spread inland. A new outbreak was discovered on April 9 on Ganghwa island, less than a month after the nation declared itself free of the disease.

China in March reported an outbreak of the disease in pigs.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jae Hur in Tokyo at jhur1@bloomberg.net

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