Japan will begin culling thousands of cattle and other livestock that were abandoned in the 12-mile evacuation area around the Fukushima nuclear plant after residents were forced to flee the area, officials said Thursday.
Farmers had to leave behind their beef cattle, dairy cows, pigs, chickens, household pets and other animals when they fled the area around the plant after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disasters.
Government spokesman Yukio Edano said that Fukushima prefecture would be asked to start killing the animals, AFP reports.
"We apologize for the great pain this will cause people who carefully raised them, regardless of the financial compensation provided,” Edano said.
More than 10,000 cows in Fukushima prefecture, renowned for their tender marbled beef and creamy milk, were left behind. Many were locked in barns and starved to death from neglect.
Edano said the government had to resort to a cull because owners could not enter the no-go zone to feed their animals.
"We have no choice, but, after weighing the options, to pursue the cull," he said.
Tens of thousands of former residents of the government-mandated evacuation zone around Fukushima don't know when they will be allowed to move back into their homes. Journalists and farmers who visited the area before it was sealed off reported seeing abandoned cows running across empty roads, and dogs and other abandoned pets begging for food.
Since the tsunami disaster, the plant has leaked radiation into the air, ground and ocean, triggering restrictions on local farm and fishery products. Engineers say that it will take at least another six months to stabilize the plant.
On Thursday, environmental group Greenpeace said it had detected radiation far above legal limits in seaweed samples taken from the ocean off the Fukushima plant, and called on the government to begin comprehensive testing of seaweed along the coast.
Greenpeace had sent its Rainbow Warrior flagship to take samples of marine life and water, called on Japan's government to undertake comprehensive radiation testing of seaweed along the Fukushima coast.
"From May 20, fishermen along the coast will begin harvesting seaweed for public consumption," said Ike Teuling, a Greenpeace radiation expert. "Our research indicates a significant risk that this seaweed will be highly contaminated," he said in a statement.
Also on Thursday, officials said that radiation levels above the legal limit had been detected in tea grown southwest of Tokyo. Kanagawa prefecture has started a recall of the tea, AFP reports.