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Great Eastern Japan Earthquake & Tsunami/Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Accident

The Fate of Animals in the Disaster Area

ALIVE NEWS May 1, 2011

Fusako Nogami (Director of ALIVE)

All of us at ALIVE send our deepest condolences and commiserations to the victims of the unprecedented tsunami and earthquake. We also extend our heartfelt sympathy to those who have been evacuated from the areas around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. It will take some time to recover from the damage caused by the natural disaster and the subsequent nuclear power plant accident. I personally feel great compassion for the many people who have been badly affected by these calamities.

Livestock and companion animals are also among the victims of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake. Approximately one million head of livestock are thought to have died due to the tsunami. Also, many livestock animals that survived the initial disaster are now dying of hunger or thirst, because electricity, water and public transportation systems are not working, their owners have abandoned them, and nobody is taking care of them. In this article, I am going to write about the animals in the disaster areas that are facing this terrible reality.

Dead livestock:

The Miyazaki Prefecture homepage has the following damage data. (April 4, 2011)
· Damaged cattle sheds/barns and other facilities: 67; the cost of damage is estimated at 1,000,000,000 yen.
· Dairy cattle, beef cattle, pigs, laying chickens and broilers drowned or starved to death: 958,071; estimated damage 500,000,000 yen.
· Estimated cost of losses caused by milk contamination and bans of sale of milk: 700,000,000 yen.
A similar scale of damage will be reported in Iwate, Fukushima and Ibaraki Prefectures and I assume that the actual numbers for these prefectures will be two to three times greater than in the case of Miyagi Prefecture.

Non-functioning feed supplies:

Japan calculates its food self-sufficiency rate using calorie-based numbers, although many consumers are unaware of this. The self-sufficiency rate for livestock feed is very low. In fact, Japan imports 90% of the grain used for livestock feed and it is estimated that about 25% of all livestock feed in Japan is imported. Corn (maize) is the main cereal used for livestock forage and Japan imports 12 million tons of corn every year. This is significantly greater than the scale of domestic production of Japan’s principal cereal crop, rice, which currently stands at 8 million tons per year.

The important ports in eastern Japan for livestock feed imports are Hachinohe, Kamaishi, Ishimaki and Kashima. These ports are equipped with huge storage tanks and mixing plants, but access to most of the ports and facilities there has been hampered by the earthquake and tsunami. The coastal navigation routes have also been destroyed, so that large size ships cannot presently enter these ports. This has caused disruptions to livestock feed supplies in the Kanto and Koshinetsu regions and supplies have been halted in some areas. In addition to the problems with feed imports, the land transportation infrastructure has been crippled because of fuel shortages and damaged roads, and as a result, livestock is dying of starvation.

¦The tragedy of dairy cattle farms:
Large livestock farms have been greatly impacted by electricity and water shortages following the disaster. Holstein cattle require large amounts of water and produce large amounts of milk, so lack of water can be fatal. Most dairy farms separate calves from their mothers as soon as they are born and the mother’s milk is taken for human consumption. Milking is usually performed using a milking machine or “milker”. A milker is powered by electricity and it can’t function if electrical power is unavailable. Milking is a very important process for dairy cows, because it prevents mammitis, which is the third biggest cause of death in dairy cattle. The power shortage problem is also affecting livestock directly. Milk from the areas close to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant has been found to contain radioactive contamination at above the maximum regulated level. Such contaminated milk is discarded. The contamination has occurred because the dairy cattle have drunk radioactive water.

The tragedy of large-scale poultry farms:
In terms of the number of individual animals killed, the biggest victims of the current disaster have been laying hens. In Japan it is common for an egg farmer or a farming company to keep between 10.000 and 100.000 hens. Poultry houses are usually windowless and the cage floor space per hen may be as small as a sheet of B5 size paper. Confined in such a restricted space, naturally, the hens cannot easily turn or move around. The cages are placed one above another in stacks between five and sometimes eight layers high. When the earthquake hit, many of the cages were warped and destroyed, and numerous hens were crushed to death.
When these farms lost electrical power, the hens were left without ventilation in confined areas and so they suffered from ammonia toxicity. Water supplies were also interrupted, as a result of which the water systems at many poultry farms malfunctioned and the hens died of thirst.
These livestock were totally abandoned and forced to wait for death. The utter cruelty of the immense pain they must have gone through is unimaginable.

The tragedy of large-scale pig farms:
The workers and staff at pig farms near the Fukushima plant were evacuated. The pig farm buildings or facilities did not sustain damage, but abandoned pigs confined in their stalls without human care or help could not escape from suffering and death due to hunger and/or thirst. These animals being omnivorous, in many cases weakened and starving pigs began eating each other and they were forced to suffer and die under horrific conditions.
(photo:S. Imamoto)

The tragedy of laboratory animals:
Laboratory animals that live in confined conditions are also greatly affected when lifeline supplies are cut off. Without food and water they will quickly face death. Experimental facilities keep all sorts of genetically modified animals and handle a wide variety of pathogens. They also include toxic and radiation experiment facilities. If these facilities are damaged, the effects can be immeasurable.
A major worry is that there is no registration or application system for facilities engaging in animal experimentation and there is no way legal way to trace down or oversee what goes on in these animal experimental facilities. This is the reason why we cannot even know the numbers of deaths of animals in laboratories. The recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant disaster has revealed the urgent need for legislative measures that will make public the locations of animal experimental facilities as well as other detailed information such as on the numbers of animals kept at each facility.

The tragedy of aquariums and zoos:
Large carnivores such as tigers and lions are kept at zoos. If the zoos are damaged, there is an increased risk of these dangerous animals escaping and this would create a huge commotion. Fortunately, no zoos were damaged by the recent earthquake and tsunami, but a large aquarium located on the shore of Pacific Ocean was badly damaged. The electrical system at the aquarium was crippled, so the water circulatory system in the exhibition tanks did not function. As a result, more than 200,000 fish died.
¦ Biodiversity was damaged:
The unprecedented tsunami destroyed numerous houses, cars and other household items and created a huge amount of debris. Noxious industrial waste and toxic chemical materials continue to flow into the ocean and are polluting the soil and water. Soon disinfectant solutions will be widely applied in order to prevent epidemics, which may cause further chemical pollution in the disaster area. Additionally, a large amount of radiation has been released from the crippled nuclear power plant and is contaminating rivers and soils. The contamination levels of some farm produce are too high for it to be sent out for public consumption, so shipments have been halted.
Highly radioactive water has been discharged into ocean, which is in turn contaminating seaweed and fish. The nuclear power plant accident has been prolonged and the agriculture and fisheries industries in the vicinity have been suffering greatly. Radioactive materials will be consumed by zooplankton and phytoplankton in the ocean, and then fish and other marine creatures will eat the plankton. In this way, highly toxic radioactive materials in the seawater will become more concentrated in creatures that eat contaminated plankton (biological concentration.) The toxic materials will be passed on in food chain and may damage the DNA of various living organisms. The process will take time but this invisible damage in ecosystem will eventually have a malign influence on humans and other animals. The time has come for all of us to fundamentally rethink our current lifestyle that is so dependent on using electricity.