Fukushima rancher defies government kill order for local cattle


A man has moved back to his cattle farm in Fukushima as a protest against what he said was the government’s attempts to trample the “inconvenient truths” of the nuclear crisis.

Masama Yoshizawa has the ghost town of Namie for himself, save for dozens of cows abandoned following the disaster at the Fukushima plant. Once a thriving beef-producing town, the area quickly became a no-man’s land in the weeks that followed the crisis. Residents fled their homes, livelihoods, along with the cows, out of fear of radiation, leaving the town was suspended in time.

No one was left to tend to the cows resulting in entire herds dying of starvation. Those that did survive escaped to forage for food among the empty streets: hundreds of stray cows out on the road. Until the Ministry of Agriculture ordered them to be rounded up and killed.

Yoshizawa then decided to move back to his farm in Namie, which he renamed “Farm of Hope”, setting off a one-man protest. He accused the government of wanting to kill the cows to “erase what happened here”.

“The government wants to kill them to… lure Japan back to its pre-accident nuclear status quo. I am not going to let them,” he said.

Yoshizawa’s previous job was raising cows for slaughter but he vowed to protect the cows. He currently has around 360 cows at his 80-acre farm and continues to search the evacuation zone. He believes the forgotten cows are as much as victims as the thousands of families forced to abandon their homes.

“These cows are living testimony to the human folly here in Fukushima,” he said. “If authorities say kill the cows, then I resolved to do the opposite by saving them.”

But choosing to stay behind with the cows is also taking a toll on his health. A checkup soon after the accident showed high levels of radioactive cesium in his body, though he said the level has decreased over the past two years.

While some see his move as heroic, others say it was doomed from the start. Critics said he is keeping the animals alive in less than humane conditions in order to make a political point. The cows are constantly ingesting contaminated materials that remained in the soil and grass.

Authorities have turned a blind eye, after several attempts to arrest Yoshizawa. Officials in Namie resolved to deny any knowledge of a rancher or anyone else living inside the evacuation zone. Yoshizawa managed to stay in the public’s eye by maintaining a blog with a live webcam.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: Jim O’Connell/Flickr