Japan’s premium Wagyu beef breed is under threat as up to 300,000 cattle and pigs are set to be slaughtered in a bid to deal with an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
The country’s ministry of agriculture sanctioned the culling of 46 stud Wagyu bulls after the government was forced to destroy thousands of cattle following an outbreak of the disease in the south of the country.
Just five stud bulls remain, leaving Japan’s lucrative Wagyu beef industry in the balance and generations of priceless cattle genetics lost.
The culling of the studs, which produce world-renowned beef famed for flavour and marbling, came after three cattle tested positive for the disease on Japan’s south island in April.
Despite moves by government officials to restrict cattle and pig movement, the disease has spread, causing an estimated 40bn yen (£302m) of damage to livestock farms.
According to the Japan Times, about 300,000 cows and pigs were scheduled to be vaccinated and then slaughtered to prevent the disease from spreading.
Some 150,000 of those remain to be culled due to problems over where to bury them.
The source of the disease has not been discovered, but experts said the infection could have occurred after pigs were fed infected food waste.
The Japanese government said it would set aside 9.6bn yen (£73bn) compensating farmers who had been forced to slaughter cattle because of the disease.
The last outbreak of foot-and-mouth in Japan was in 2000, when 700 cattle were culled.
Despite the latest outbreak, industry officials said shoppers had not turned away from beef and pork.