Policy and Agenda for Creating a Distinguished Culture in Japan Through Development of the Livestock Industry

July 28, 2015

Eimei Sato, President, National Livestock Breeding Center, Incorporated Administrative Agency, Fukushima, Japan


Livestock Industry in Japan and the Influence of Climate and Buddhism

Livestock production operates under the influence of specific local circumstances, especially natural circumstances such as climate. Based on his personal travel experiences in Europe, the Japanese philosopher Tetsuro Watsuji in his book “The Climate” in 1979 classified the world’s climate into three types—monsoon, desert, and pasture. The last of these, pasture, is characterized by dryness in the summer and dampness in the winter. As seen in Europe, once pastureland is established, it can be kept in its state for centuries and will support the human activity of livestock production. Mr. Watsuji concluded that the natural circumstances for pasture in Europe have encouraged the development of livestock production there.

In the last 50 years, the livestock population and the quantity of livestock products such as milk, meat, and eggs are increasing in Japan and the rest of Asia. Although Asia has many different climates, the major part of the continent, like Japan, has a monsoon climate. Mr. Watsuji pointed out that people in a monsoon area can live by consuming plants such as rice that are known for their vigorous growth; they can live without fear of hunger by meeting their sustenance needs through consuming these plants and therefore have no need to keep livestock for food. In these countries, agricultural use of farm animals such as cattle and horses has mainly been to support the cultivation of land. At present, however, the people in monsoon areas increasingly desire to consume livestock products, despite the long-term experience in being supported by plants adapted to the climate. These residents have come to realize that consuming livestock products gives them a strong body frame and a longer life span. Pasture lands in Japan have typically been located in the restricted areas such as the northern island (Hokkaido) and upland or mountain; however, the livestock industry is currently undergoing active expansion beyond these areas into monsoon areas so that livestock production is increasing in monsoon areas in addition to areas of traditional pasture lands.

Mr. Watsuji also pointed out that climate has influenced the cultural traits of Japanese people such as their sense of acceptance, of both their circumstance and authority. People in Japan accept the strong power of nature such as the heavy rains, storms, floods, and drought that characterize a monsoon climate. As a force too strong for humans to control, the power of nature must always be obeyed. Based on these Japanese cultural traits developed by living over many generations in a monsoon climate, I think that Japanese people have largely accepted the doctrines of Buddhism, and have been heavily influenced by Buddhist teaching.

The Jodo-shu, or Pure Land sect, one of the most influential and popular schools of Buddhism in Japan, prohibits the killing of living bodies including animals. As depicted in the Ojoyoshu, a text written and illustrated by Genshin, the founder of the Jodo-shu sect, in 985, in the afterlife, someone who violated lives with cruelty or who took the life of another living being is drawn into a hell. According to the Ojoyoshu, the pain in hell is manifest and fearsome: occupants of the red-hot interior suffer hunger and waste away. The pain is drawn by the hellish picture transmitted to an old temple. A succession of acts involving the eating of domestic animals is one necessary condition causing a person to fall into hell.

The Jodo-shu sect has been popular in Japan during the sect’s thousand-year history. Traditional Japanese did not consume the products of livestock and looked down upon livestock husbandry. Japanese people who work in the livestock industry have to be conscious of the Jodo-shu concept of hell. In this way, Japan has a distinctive viewpoint on the livestock industry drawn from Buddhism, especially the Jodo-shu sect. Scientists working in the livestock industry in Japan must think about Buddhist teaching as well as the industry’s economic and scientific problems,

A Japanese cultural anthropologist wrote in 1976 that there is virtually no distinguished livestock culture in Japan. Regrettably, it seems that traditional Japanese people influenced by the Ojoyoshu agree with this opinion without observing the activity of the livestock industry with their own eyes. Japanese animal scientists including me will insist that if people watch the development of the livestock industry and the changing food habits of the Japanese with their own eyes and without the influence of Buddhist teachings, they would see that Japan is working to create a distinctive culture related to the livestock industry. After becoming active in Japan after World War II, the livestock industry is now taking on a large presence within agriculture and is establishing its own dietary culture that includes the wagyu beef dishes of sukiyaki and shabushabu. The livestock industry in Japan has the potential to create a new and original culture, including technology; this new culture is comparable to the livestock cultures of Europe, North America, and South America. The evolution of this new culture is being driven by the expanding activity of the livestock industry; it is causing the traditional culture based on rice-growing to undergo a gradual change.

One organization that can stimulate the development of the Japanese livestock industry is the National Livestock Breeding Center (NLBC). The following sections describe the efforts of the NLBC towards this end.

The NLBC in the History of the Japanese Livestock Industry

The history of the livestock industry in Japan can be understood through the history of the NLBC. Since marking its first step in 1872, the NLBC has been at work for more than a century; it has been involved in numerous changes to the industry. After starting as a horse stock farm, it was then reconstructed as a breeding stock farm in 1946, just after World War II. Under the guidance of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the NLBC has been focusing on improving the quality and breeding of dairy cattle, beef cattle, swine, and poultry to meet the demand from the Japanese people for a wider variety of food. Under close cooperation between the head office and its 11 stations, recently the NLBC has been fulfilling the role of a government agency in contributing to life in Japan by augmenting and improving animal breeding; producing and supplying seeds for forage crops; managing a cattle identification service; and promoting new technologies. The NLBC develops these initiatives, brings them into practical use, and spreads their adoption across Japan. Each footstep by the NLBC, taken year by year, marks a point in the history of Japan’s livestock industry; this role will be handed down to future generations.

NLBC Activities in 2015

Economic and Scientific Issues Requiring the Efforts of the NLBCSince the establishment of the NLBC, Japan’s livestock industry has undergone an extraordinary development in conjunction with the expanding consumption of livestock products such as meat and dairy foods. However, the industry currently faces several problems that need to be solved. First, production costs must be reduced and the quality of livestock products enhanced in order to cope with the advance of internationalization at the World Trade Organization and economic partnership arrangement negotiations. Second, cost reduction and administrative oversight of producers, by means of improving yields from animal breeding and production control, is necessary in order to strengthen the production base during a period in which Japan’s self-sufficiency in livestock products is declining. Third, domestic production of forage crops must be expanded in order to reduce production cost, make effective use of farmland, and establish a resource circulation model for agriculture. Fourth, outbreaks of bovine spongiform encephalopathy and the emergence of genetically modified organisms have awakened concerns about food safety. Lastly, domestic systems need to be maintained to improve the quality of animal breeds and their supply without relying excessively upon foreign animal resources; import of such foreign animal resources is dangerous when infectious diseases arise, such as highly pathogenic avian influenza.

NLBC Activities in Response to Various Economic and Scientific IssuesIn order to deal with various economic issues, the NLBC, as an agency responsible for implementing government policy, is engaged in the following services.

Improved animal breeds. Advancing the improvement of animal breeds is the basis for reducing production cost and improving the quality of livestock products in order to strengthen the industry’s international competitiveness. To improve the quality of Japan’s staple species of animals, we produce and supply superb breeding stock, semen, and fertilized eggs. In dairy cattle, our efforts are focused on increasing the volume of milk produced, improving body structure, and enhancing life-long productivity. In beef cattle, we seek to improve both the quality and quantity of meat and to preserve genetic diversity. In swine, our goals are the improvement of intramuscular fat, daily weight gain, and rib-eye area. In poultry, the NLBC is working on improved egg shell strength, elimination of meat spots, and decreased fat volume inside the abdomen. New technology. Enhancement of breeding methods for higher efficiency can be achieved through practical use of newly developed technologies that focus on molecular genetic techniques. The NLBC is conducting studies to identify genes or linked genetic markers affecting economically important traits of farm animals for Japanese food production. Applications to livestock improvement are also being investigated. Thus far, the NLBC has identified the following genes: one involved in the resistance to mastitis in dairy cattle; one that causes diaphragm muscular syndrome in dairy cattle; one involved in the fatty acid composition in beef, a major taste component; one that causes claudin-16 deficiency, type-2 in beef cattle; and one involved in the litter size of swine. The NLBC also advances techniques for livestock husbandry, livestock production, and utilization of forage crops and pasture, and also demonstrates and exhibits these techniques. Forage crops. NLBC activities include expanding domestic forage crop production through production and supply of high-quality seeds for forage. Progeny testing. Through the arrangement of cooperative relationships among numerous parties, the NLBC is promoting a progeny examination in order to select dairy and beef sires that can be used all over Japan. Because artificial insemination is becoming the prevailing practice in the breeding of cattle, a large variety of semen is in use, taken from top-rate sires. For this reason, it is important to select excellent sires by properly judging their capability. Because it is impossible to measure directly the capability to produce milk or meat embedded in an animal’s genes, we have to make this judgment after the capability of the progeny is proven in a number of cases. Evaluation of genetic ability. The NLBC offers information on dairy cattle, beef cattle, and swine from a standardized evaluation administered nationwide, so that producers can improve the quality of their animals by their own efforts. This information can also be used for progeny examinations. In the case of dairy cattle, we compare Japanese dairy sires with sires in leading dairy farming countries by taking part in the INTERBULL breeding and genetics program. However, genetic elements alone do not fully account for the milk or meat production of animals; production is also affected by environmental elements such as husbandry techniques and climate conditions. Therefore, to estimate genetic ability, we first eliminate the environmental elements by processing a vast amount of statistical data on animal capability, blood characteristics, and husbandry. Inspection of male breeding stock. Only a small number of bulls, boars, and stallions are used for artificial insemination for all of Japan. Therefore, if a semen donor has contracted a disease, the disease could spread rapidly throughout the nation. To certify that donors of sperm used for reproduction are free from infectious and genetic diseases, the NLBC conducts inspections provided for under the Act on Improvement and Increased Production of Livestock. Preservation of genetic resources. As a part of a gene bank service offered by the NLBC for agricultural fertility resources, a variety of genetic resources of livestock are preserved in the form of living animals, semen, and embryos. Cattle identification service. Information on individual cattle as registered in accordance with the Beef Traceability Act can be used to help prevent the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy and to maintain the reliability of businesses involved in the livestock industry. The NLBC manages the individual identification registry (a computerized database), records the appropriate information, and also publishes information from the registry.

2015 NLBC Agenda for Creating Distinguished Japanese Culture

NLBC is working hard to improve the base of the livestock industry in Japan by developing and refining technology. The center is being asked to contribute its efforts to the following problems for making a strong livestock industry and for creating new and original culture.

Rice-Growing for the Livestock Industry : Because the country is encircled by sea and located in a monsoon area, Japan is a suitable area for fishing and agriculture. Agriculture here has developed with a focus on growing rice to feed its people. People first concentrated on rice, vegetables, and fish, and then later developed and refined the characteristics of Japanese food. However, after World War II, Japanese meals were influenced by American style food, and the Japanese diet started to become dependent on livestock products. This led to the development of Japan’s own livestock industry to supplement the import of livestock products from foreign countries. In recent years, livestock products including feed have been discussed for the purpose of increasing self-sufficiency in livestock production. In these discussions, growing rice as a livestock feed has become a hot topic. Rice growing lies at the root of much of what is unique in Japanese culture, a culture developed by the Japanese from antiquity until now. In recent years, however, Japan has faced the need to transform its thinking to the idea of raising rice as feed for cattle and pigs. In this way, the development of the livestock industry has led to changes in the traditional Japanese rice-growing culture. The NLBC is supporting this transformation by developing new seeds for growing rice for the livestock industry.

Development of New technology from the Livestock Industry: Novel technology has been developed in the livestock industry, which has influenced the development of science, technology, engineering, and medicine. Somatic cell cloning is affecting the development of regenerative medicine, production of pharmaceuticals, and organ production for use in xenotransplantation. The biology of sperm and oocytes and the biology of in vitro fertilization have stimulated the development of assisted reproductive technologies in humans. In these fields, distinguished achievements have been attained in Japanese animal science; researchers from this field have moved into medical science. In addition, the study of microorganisms in the rumen is a good model for studying the concept of symbiosis and parasitism; results of rumen research are influencing the study of intestinal flora in humans. In addition to medicine, this concept of microorganisms in the rumen has also influenced the development of social science and philosophy in Japan.

New Licenses and Occupations Affecting the Livestock Industry: The traditional occupation of veterinarian has be joined by a new licensed occupation that is making its own contribution to the development of the Japanese livestock industry: artificial inseminators of cattle and pigs. With about 1500 licensees operating nationwide under licenses issued in accordance with the Act on Improvement and Increased Production of Livestock, artificial inseminators are also able to work on fertilized egg transplantation in cattle after getting the license. The establishment of these new licenses has enabled the development of technologies including non-surgical embryo transfer of fertilized eggs and in vitro maturation, fertilization, and culture, which makes use of immature oocytes obtained from ovaries at slaughterhouses in Japan. Through these new livestock technologies, the NLBC continually strives to improve livestock performance. The NLBC is now focusing on research in ovum pick-up (OPU) and in vitro fertilization. It is hoped that the number of artificial inseminators involved in OPU increases in addition to number of the veterinarians in order to help develop the livestock industry in Japan. In addition to these licenses, about 300 holders of chief livestock consultant licenses approved by the Japanese Livestock Industry Association are working with various public organizations on developing farm management and spread of technologies in various fields within the Japanese livestock industry,

Livestock Production by Senior Citizens Using Minimal Labor: The Japanese agricultural sector faces a major problem with the aging of its working population and the increasing number of people who are giving up farming, especially in the upland areas between the plains and mountains. In addition, government land management policy in rural areas, especially in these upland areas, is now recommending animal grazing in the lands abandoned by those who gave up farming. There is a growing need for the development of minimum-labor techniques involving the feeding of animals including cattle, sheep, and goats. Wild animals are damaging agriculture especially in these uplands, and the NLBC is being asked to join a group to control the number of wild animals in these areas. This is an important issue for establishing strong livestock husbandry and creating an attractive living environment and culture in rural areas.

The NLBC is being asked to become more involved in the various issues facing the livestock industry in Japan; we will do our best to develop this industry in response to requests from the government and its administrative agencies. In addition to these efforts, I personally wish to contribute to the creation of a distinctive culture, comparable to the rice-growing culture in Japan and the livestock culture found both in Europe, and in North and South America. As part of an international cooperative arrangement sponsored by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the NLBC is in charge of training on new technology and practices in livestock farming, which were developed in Japan. The NLBC also dispatches staff overseas as technical cooperation experts. As the president of the NLBC, I hope that new suggestions and proposals will arrive at the offices of the NLBC (kaigai@nlbc.go.jp) for programs involving international cooperation.

The head office of the NLBC is located in a small village in Fukushima, the site of the nuclear power plant accident that followed the tsunami in 2011. The grounds at our head office campus, 84.5 km from the power plant, were slightly contaminated by radiation. I am glad to say that the contaminated surface was completely removed by the end of February 2015.