CBIC Closeup: Is It Necessary To Slaughter Cattle And Pigs That Have Foot-and-mouth Disease?

The foot-and-mouth disease turmoil in Miyazaki Prefecture, involving the continual slaughter of livestock, has finally ended. Many people expressed their doubts about whether it was necessary to slaughter livestock over such a large area. This is a perfectly natural emotion from the point of view of the feelings of the general public. Doubts were also cast about why, if there is no problem consuming the meat and given the waste involved, these burdens were forced upon the farmers and such large compensations were necessary.

Honorary Professor of the University of Tokyo, YAMAUCHI Kazuya has spoken of the developments that led to the slaughter of livestock suffering from foot-and-mouth disease. According to Professor Yamauchi, foot-and-mouth disease first became established as an endemic disease in Britain and brought about a great loss to farmers there. From 1892 it was decided to introduce the method of slaughtering all the livestock in the surrounding area as a countermeasure. In the epidemic of 1920, however, the number of animals due to be slaughtered was too large, and some of the animals began to recover before their turn to be slaughtered came around, causing doubts about the slaughter method to become widespread among farmers. It became clear that animals could gain immunity from foot-and-mouth disease and recover naturally. Farmers began to express the opinion that if the animals would recover naturally there was no necessity to slaughter them, and this argument was advanced in parliament. However, when put to the vote, it was decided to continue the slaughter method by a slim majority.

What we can infer from the above is that foot-and-mouth disease is a disease from which animals can recover, and further that the slaughter method lacks scientific grounds and was adopted on the basis of a political decision by a majority decision in parliament.

In addition, this decision was internationalized by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE – formerly known as the Office International des Epizooties). The OIE was established in 1924 as an international organization overseeing animal diseases and formulates international standards for animal hygiene and so on from its HQ in Paris. In 1957, the OIE drew up a treaty for the prevention of foot-and-mouth disease, adopting the slaughter method.

Under the Livestock Infectious Disease Law, which entered into force in Japan in 1951, it became compulsory for cattle and pigs that have contracted foot-and-mouth disease to be forcibly slaughtered. Stud bull farmers in Miyazaki Prefecture resisted the slaughter order to the end, but the state decided to proceed with forcible slaughter. From the state’s point of view this was an executive measure based on law and there was absolutely no margin for the acceptance of the farmers’ commonsense judgment.

The issue is that, with the advance of globalization, there is no longer any country that can escape foot-and-mouth disease, and it is therefore necessary to find a mechanism to enable coexistence with the disease. In order to do this, it is first necessary to abolish the out-of-date slaughter method, which places a burden on the farmer and which kills animals unnecessarily.

(First published by Citizens’ Biotechnology Information Center (CBIC) in Bio Journal, September 2010)