Farmers haul Fukushima cow to Tokyo seeking probe into mystery disease


Angry farmers from Fukushima brought a large cow to the center of Tokyo on Friday to demand that the government investigate a disease they say cattle have developed since the nuclear disaster started three years ago.

Operators of the non-profit Kibo no Bokujo (Farm of Hope) delivered an adult black cow to the front of the farm ministry to demand an investigation into why it and many other animals have developed white dots on their skin since three reactors at the poorly protected Fukushima No. 1 plant went into meltdown after the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.

The farm is 14 km (9 miles) from the power plant and is keeping some 350 cows that were abandoned when their owners fled the radiation.

“Our cows cannot be shipped as meat. They are evidence of lives affected by radiation,” said Masami Yoshizawa, leader of the farm, in front of the ministry as his supporters and media looked on.

Fellow Fukushima farmer Naoto Matsumura said: “What if this started happening to people? We have to examine the cause of this and let people know what happened to these animals.”

Vast stretches of farmland in Fukushima have been tainted by radioactive fallout from the plant, forcing tens of thousands of residents to abandon their homes and jobs for life in temporary shelters.

The government says it could take decades to clean the region, but scientists say many residents may never be able to return.

  • keratomileusis

    Good for them! Gambatte!

  • GBR48

    If it is Vitiligo, then a skin biopsy should be adequately diagnostic. The causes of Vitiligo are not known with absolute certainty, but they have been linked to the immune system. As these animals are living in an area of increased radioactivity, and may be ingesting plant materials that are effectively ‘recycling’ radioactive contamination as they grow, you might expect immune-system problems (amongst others). The long-term effects upon human beings (and animals) of radioactive contamination are complex and pernicious and they are still writing the text books.

    ‘Nuclear’ is different, every step of the way. You can’t just turn off a nuclear power station when something goes wrong. The waste it produces can’t simply be dumped in a hole in the ground-the danger of contamination lasts for centuries, which makes for expensive, multi-generational waste management. ‘Cleaning’ contaminated land is not a simple process. There is no solvent for wiping away radioactive contamination. Even if they get the ice wall up and running, and keep it up and running for decades to come, secure from future natural disasters, it forms just one part of a very difficult and phenomenally expensive decommissioning procedure.

    Even in a nation without earthquakes and tsunamis, nuclear power just yells ‘bad idea’. Many politicians will continue to favour it though, as the short-term costs are lower, and politics is the art of the short-term. Politicians in office rarely worry about anything beyond the next election. Most seem happy to roll the dice, go for the cheap power and allow a future generation to be forced to pick up the tab for the ‘long-tail’ costs and consequences.

    • Starviking

      Vitiligo would affect patches of skin.

      These animals have been not only kept out of their natural environment, but also have been allowed to age more. There’s two non-radioisotope related disease factors.

      Several photos show the white dots floating off the bulls. If the disease is communicable then the farmers have put people at risk. Of course, it could just be fluff.

      As for your homily about nuclear power – it can be cleaned up better than the CO2 we have been pumping into the atmosphere in ever increasing amounts.

      • GBR48

        Vitiligo, as a recognised medical issue, would be a place to start. It varies as a disease and may vary even more after exposure to radiation. Once you introduce radioactive contamination into the mix, you don’t just get things like birth defects, you start to get all sorts of anomalies, as was witnessed after Chernobyl. You are more likely to get variations of ‘ordinary’ diseases.

        Agreed, these cattle are much older than those that are slaughtered for human consumption. I suspect that scientists have enough experience with older cattle to have ruled out lentigines (age spots) long before anyone felt the need to bring one of the unfortunate beasts to Tokyo to demand answers. The ‘fluff’ suggestion is rather insulting to the farmers. Most problems that result from radiation poisoning are not likely to be transmissable other than via inheritance at birth, but it would weaken the immune system and increase the likelihood of other diseases. Older cattle are also more likely to have developed a range of diseases, which is why there are usually restrictions on the age at which they are slaughtered before entering the food chain.

        My ‘homily’ on nuclear power, I stand by, but not as an alternative to increased and unlimited fossil fuel use. The democratic system does not deal well with difficult choices. Parents might avoid spoiling their children, but politicians know that if you spoil the electorate and pander to their desires, you usually win more votes. That can end in tears.

        We are running out of fossil fuel, CO2 emissions do present a serious danger and the time is long overdue when politicians are going to have to work together to implement green energy schemes and reduced energy usage, however unpopular the latter might be amongst those members of the public whose heads remain firmly in the sand. Switching to nuclear power takes a nation down a very dangerous route, particularly if that nation is subject to quakes and tsunamis.

        The families in Fukushima with contaminated waste buried near their homes, ‘temporarily’, would probably not agree with your view that it is quite so easy to clear up.

      • Conrad Brean

        GR48 – Many thanks for two thought provoking, well constructed and articulate explanations!

      • Sam Gilman

        Birth defects at this level of radiation exposure? Radiation-induced birth defects weren’t even found after Chernobyl. The idea that there were “all sorts of anomalies” is something spread about in activist campaign literature, but it’s not found in the scientific literature.

        As in my longer post here, the evidence that these spots are radiation-induced is incredibly weak; the dose rates of cows with and without these spots shows no positive relationship. There is a copper deficiency issue which may be the cause, or overcrowding.

        The farmers certainly appear to have a case about negligence and poor support from the government, but if we’re going to talk about science, I think it’s better to avoid the “everything unexplained is caused by radiation” route.

  • Sam Gilman

    First of all, it’s worth praising Kibo no Bokujo for their efforts in trying to take care of abandoned cattle.

    The report fails to mention previous reports on the white spots. They appear to rule out radiation as being a cause. This is from kibo no bokujo’s own website from last November:

    Last month in October, an investigative team from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries visited Mr. Yoshizawa’s ranch. They examined the nutritional conditions of the cows and collected their blood. “It could be microbial infection, or environmental and nutritional conditions. There are many complex elements to consider, so we need to continue to investigate.” (Dr. Kanezo Arai, National Institute of Animal Health)

    And – earlier this month, an interim report was released. The result – “A severe level of copper deficiency was found.” It was found that all of the cows tested had copper deficiency in their blood. In past investigations, there have been confirmed symptoms of hair color becoming lighter due to copper deficiency. However, it was difficult to arrive with the conclusion that the white spots were caused by copper deficiency, and there was no mention of it being impacted by radioactive contamination. Yoshizawa-san thinks that the copper deficiency is a result of the cows not being fed mixed feed.

    On the other hand, Associate Professor Keiji Okada of the Iwate University who has continued to study vitiligo conditions, points out that it is unlikely that it was the effect of radiation. He bases it on the concentration of cesium in the blood. “There is no correlation to the cesium level in the blood. There seems to be more vitiligo seen where the air dose is lower.” (Associate Professor Keiji Okada, Iwate University)

    On the day that Associate Professor Okada visited a ranch, the air dose level there was over 20 micro Sievert, but he could not confirm any cows to have the white spots. On the other hand, the ranch where the white spotted cows were found had a relatively low dosage. Associate Professor Okada believes that the white spots are not caused by radiation, but perhaps due to overcrowded living environment which is causing stress among the cows.

    So the problem is that the cause is unknown, possibly copper deficiency, possible overcrowding and stress. They’re not sure. However, the dosing evidence runs contrary to radiation being a cause.

    In any case, the kind of exposure in humans that leads to compromised immunity needs to be very large (at least a Gray of absorbed dose, ie at least a Sievert of exposure) and cows should be just as resilient. No such high doses happened here.

    What this is really about is how the evacuations were carried out. The mystery over the disease is a symptom of the lack of care these people are getting.

    • Starviking

      So basically the organisation is just trying to get some publicity?

      • Sam Gilman

        That would seem to be the case. And good luck to them, as far as I can see.

      • Starviking

        But still it would seem like someone or something has misled the public. I was under the impression that the farmers were pushing the govt. to investigate, but this isn’t the case – they’re just asking for a final report on the govt. investigation.

        Poor and/or biassed journalism probably at fault.