Written by by By Itsuo Inouye, CNN
The Japanese city of Nara has started selling bowls filled with edible plastic bags to protect against a disease spreading from deer to humans, the city’s mayor recently announced.
The city had earlier introduced alternative plastic food-friendly packaging that could be used for rice and noodle dishes, which is also being tested out in two public schools.
The “Micro Chargers” soup bowls (about $3 each) come in three sizes and have an edible plastic-free earthen coating to protect against contamination.
Nara, where the deer epidemic has worsened over the past few years, has been added to the government’s list of areas at risk for the disease, which affects deer and other fauna.
Urbanized deer have been blamed for sickening and killing humans, especially schoolchildren, and the number of deer in the city has shot up to more than 1,000.
Wildlife experts now say the deer are trying to colonize the city, something humans have managed to avoid in the past. About 10,000 deer have been found in and around Nara since 2011, leading authorities to effectively ban hunting of the animals across the region.
The mayor of Nara, Shizuka Kamei, announced the lunches — which are also marketed as “safe” for human consumption — as part of the city’s efforts to “limit the spread of infectious diseases and ecological disaster” in the area.
Nara City Museum curator Yoshiyuki Terue, a longtime deer expert, said the presence of the disease “would be very harmful for the deer population in Nara.”
A bacteria may have been found that could spread between deer and humans. Credit: KATO Sukaka/AFP/Getty Images
“The disease can cause fever, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea, especially in humans who have weakened immune systems. The disease is more common in adults but often spreads to children as well,” Terue told CNN.
The presence of chicken and soybean infections has also been reported.
Fear for the environment
More schools and children’s nurseries in Nara are being tested as a precaution.
The mayor’s office has come under criticism for the banquet for one reason in particular.
Despite the city’s history as a Buddhist pilgrimage site, where rituals are performed and carried out of samurai swords, bullets and a samurai sword traditionally used to practice martial arts, organisers say the lunches have nothing to do with magical imagery.
Nara is not alone in trying to keep control of the deer.
The mayor of Fukuoka, Fukusue Furutani, has said the city would offer to buy the affected deer to ensure they survive in the wild.
But the mayor of Kyoto — Yuzo Arimoto — has stood firm against efforts to send the deer to sanctuaries or parks where they could be euthanized.
Due to fears of cannibalism, “it is highly unlikely any of the deer would survive that,” he said.