Tokyo, Sept. 19 (Jiji Press)–In a major policy shift, Japan’s agriculture ministry now plans to vaccinate farm pigs against swine fever, judging that doing so is inevitable to stop the unabated spread of the infectious disease after the first outbreak in the country in 26 years was confirmed in September 2018, Jiji Press learned Thursday.
The vaccination program is expected to mainly cover pig farms near swine fever outbreak areas.
According to the ministry, eating the meat of vaccinated pigs will have no impact on human body.
Basic responses to swine fever outbreaks stipulated under the government’s epidemic prevention guidelines for the disease are to cull pigs at affected farms, including uninfected pigs, and the guidelines do not allow preventive vaccinations.
The ministry plans to review the guidelines and ask vaccine makers to increase production, informed sources said.
But it is believed to be difficult to eradicate the swine fever virus as long as there are wild boars, which are said to mediate the virus. Therefore, vaccination may have to be carried out for a long period of time, and related costs could be high.
Some experts caution that vaccination would make it difficult to distinguish infected and uninfected pigs, possibly leading to a delay in responding to new outbreaks. Measures against possible unfounded rumors related to vaccination would be another challenge, they say.
In addition, the start of vaccination will cause Japan to lose its status as a swine fever-free country under the rules of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and the number of countries restricting pork imports from Japan could increase as a result.
For these reasons, the Japanese government has been negative about vaccination.
But the wind shifted on Friday last week, when a swine fever outbreak was confirmed at a pig farm in Saitama Prefecture, part of the Kanto eastern Japan region, a major pork production area, following infections mainly in the Chubu central region.
This was the first outbreak in Kanto since infection was confirmed at a pig farm in Gifu Prefecture, part of Chubu, in September last year in the first swine fever case in Japan in 26 years.
Pigs infected with swine fever have been confirmed in six prefectures–Gifu, Aichi, Mie, Fukui, Saitama and Nagano.
In the six prefectures, as well as the western prefectures of Osaka and Shiga, to which piglets infected with swine fever were shipped, a total of over 135,000 pigs have been culled since September last year.