Older cows have nowhere to go

January 6, 2002 The Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo)
About 44,000 aging dairy cows who can no longer produce milk in sufficient amounts have been left unsold at stockyards nationwide after last year's outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), according to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.

Old milk cows are usually sold to be processed into meat, but the large number of aging dairy cattle have not been purchased because all three cows infected with BSE--also known as mad cow disease--were 5-year-old milk cows, who were older than normal beef cattle, a ministry official said.

Under the current situation, where even the price of beef cattle has declined due to the BSE scare, meat processors have become hesitant to buy older milk cows, which have a higher potential to be infected with the disease, the official said.

With the old cows left unsold, dairy farmers are not able to replace them with younger cows that can produce more milk, a factor that is starting to negatively affect the dairy industry, according to the ministry. Aging cows that can no longer produce milk have been found abandoned in some parts of the nation. On Dec. 28, two milk cows were discovered along the Tonegawa river in Menumamachi, Saitama Prefecture, both of which had swollen udders that were no longer able to produce milk and were estimated to be 4 or 5 years old.

A 61-year-old livestock dealer in the town, who volunteered to take care of the cows, said he was worried that the Tonegawa river would someday become a dumping ground for old cows that can no longer produce milk. "My fear has now turned into reality," he said.

On the following day, another older cow, believed to have been used to breed calves, was discovered near the same spot.

The Kumagaya Police Station in the prefecture said it is not known who the owners of the three cows were, and that they had possibly been abandoned by dairy farmers who did not know what to do with them.

The police added that identifying ear tags and nose rings had been removed from the cows, which makes it difficult to find the owners.

According to the National Federation of Dairy Cooperative Associations, almost no aging milk cows are now being traded nationwide.

Explaining why meat processors do not want to buy such cows, an employee of a meat processing factory in the Kanto area said: "Once a case of mad cow disease is confirmed, the dairy farmer who raised the cow must discard all other cows on his farm. Meat processing factories must also sterilize their facilities and must temporarily halt their operations.

"In addition, the price of beef, which has nothing to do with the infected milk cows, is highly likely to decline (due to rumors). Who would want to take such risks?"

According to the ministry, a total of about 300,000 aging dairy cows are processed into meat each year, mainly minced meat.

Before the outbreak of BSE was confirmed, even old cows, if they were plump enough, were sold at more than 100,000 yen a head.

These days, however, farmers would make little profit from selling such cows, said a dairy farmer in Mitsukaido, Ibaraki Prefecture. "Rather, we would end up losing tens of thousands of yen once we pay the expenses needed to transport the cattle," he said.

A 54-year-old dairy farmer of Nasumachi, Tochigi Prefecture, who raises about 40 head of milk cows, said he still milks two of the cows that were to be processed into meat.

In order to be profitable in the dairy industry, the farmer said, each cow must produce at least 15 kilograms of milk a day. However, his two older cows can each produce only six to eight kilograms of milk a day.

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