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Japan PM admits fault in handling disease

TOKYO (AP)--Japan's prime minister acknowledged May 18 that the government was not doing enough to contain a Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in a southern prefecture that has crippled farmers growing prized beef and prompted its governor to declare a crisis.

Authorities have destroyed more than 114,000 animals--8,600 cows and 105,500 pigs--since they detected the disease in Miyazaki last month.

"We've reached a situation where we are unable to stop (the outbreak) from spreading,'' Miyazaki Gov. Hideo Higashikokubaru said. He declared a state of emergency, calling the outbreak "serious.''

He said the disease could spread to neighboring prefectures or even across the country and urged residents to avoid unnecessary contacts between farms and ensure sterilization.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's government has been criticized for being too slow to respond since the first sick cow was found in Miyazaki on the southern main island of Kyushu--Japan's first since 2000. It led to the suspension of beef exports for at least three months.

Hatoyama acknowledged the government should have acted sooner to contain the rapidly spreading outbreak.

"I think there are certain problems in terms of having done everything we could to prevent the expansion,'' Hatoyama told reporters. He vowed Tokyo would do its utmost, including giving financial assistance to affected farmers.

FMD is often fatal for cloven-hoofed animals including cows, sheep, pigs and goats, causing blisters on the mouth and feet. It does not affect humans.

The government has set up an emergency task force and is considering spending 100 billion yen ($1.1 billion) for preventive steps and financial support for affected farmers.

Miyazaki's beef industry produces "wagyu'' cattle, which are world-famous for intricate marbling, tenderness and high prices.

The Miyazaki Livestock Improvement Association, which manages the breeding bulls for the Miyazaki brand of cattle, has evacuated its six most important bulls, which produce nearly all of the semen sold to farmers for artificial insemination. Testing has shown that the six bulls are not infected.

Shoji Haneda, president of the central Miyazaki branch of Japan Agricultural Cooperatives, has estimated that local farmers would lose 16 billion yen ($173 million) because of the outbreak. Reports said economic losses could amount to 25 billion yen ($270 million).

Japan exported 565 tons of beef worth $40 million (3.8 billion yen) during the last fiscal year, mostly to Vietnam, Hong Kong and the U.S., according to the agriculture ministry.

In South Korea, authorities have slaughtered thousands of cows since January in its first outbreak of FMD in eight years.

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