• SHARE

A graft scandal involving a former farm minister has catapulted the issue of animal welfare into the spotlight, illustrating the lengths to which the nation’s poultry industry went to preserve its decades-old yet globally criticized practice of confining egg-laying hens to small cages, writes Tomohiro Osaki.

Ruling party lawmaker Takamori Yoshikawa allegedly received ¥5 million in undeclared donations from a former head of poultry giant Akita Foods several times during his 11-month stint as farm minister. Last Tuesday, Koya Nishikawa, also a former farm minister, suddenly resigned as a special Cabinet adviser amid criticism of his own intimate ties with Akita Foods.

Self-Defense Forces personnel work on Friday inside a chicken farm in Mimasaka, Okayama Prefecture, hit by an outbreak of avian influenza. | OKAYAMA PREFECTURAL GOVERNMENT / VIA KYODO
Self-Defense Forces personnel work on Friday inside a chicken farm in Mimasaka, Okayama Prefecture, hit by an outbreak of avian influenza. | OKAYAMA PREFECTURAL GOVERNMENT / VIA KYODO

Under Yoshikawa’s stewardship, the ministry opposed a suggestion by the World Organization for Animal Health that the importance of providing chickens with nesting areas and perches be recognized in its animal welfare guidelines. The “battery cage” system — banned in the EU — is king in Japan, where nearly 95% of poultry farmers still rely on cages to house hens.

Meanwhile, bird flu is back, leading to mass culls of chickens across 10 prefectures so far. The first case this year was detected in Kagawa Prefecture in early November, with nine more prefectures in western Japan reporting cases since then.

On Friday, Okayama became the ninth to report an outbreak of a strain of bird flu that is believed to be highly pathogenic. All 640,000 chickens at a farm in the city of Mimasaka will be culled to stem the spread of the infection, making it one of the largest culls in a single bird flu outbreak case this year.

PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)