The infectious livestock disease of swine fever, also known as hog cholera, is spreading. Every possible measure must be taken to cope with the problem so the spread of damage can be stemmed.
The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has said it will vaccinate farm pigs. Although consuming pork from infected swine does not adversely affect the human body, the disease is highly capable of infecting pigs. For hogs that are infected, the fatality rate is high.
Since the disease broke out at a pig farm in Gifu Prefecture in September last year, it has continued to spread, mainly in the Chubu region. Early this month, a case of infection was discovered in Saitama Prefecture — the first time the disease was found in the Kanto region. The number of pigs raised in the region stands at about 2.3 million, accounting for one-fourth of the national total.
The ministry’s announcement of the plan can be described as an attempt to prevent the spread of the disease in the nation’s leading swine-producing area.
The ministry has so far been cautious about administering vaccines. This is because if vaccinations are carried out, Japan will be regarded as a “non-swine-fever-free country” by the World Organization for Animal Health, arousing concerns that it will be difficult for our nation to export pork.
Even one year after the outbreak began, however, there is no telling if and when the contagion will end. More than 130,000 swine have been culled. Many pig farming households and local governments had called for carrying out vaccinations. There is no denying that the ministry’s policy change has come too late.
The ministry’s guidelines for coping with infectious livestock diseases do not permit vaccination for preventive purposes. With this in mind, the ministry will revise the guidelines, thereby making it possible for prefectural governors to conduct vaccinations at their own discretion. The revisions need to be swiftly made.
Continue targeting wild boars
It is assumed that, when carrying out vaccinations, limited areas will be subject to the measure, and that this will be followed by creating a mechanism aimed at preventing vaccinated pigs and pork from being distributed outside of these areas.
What kind of yardstick will be used to choose the areas covered by vaccination efforts? How should a framework for effective management of distribution be facilitated? To prevent confusion among people directly involved in conducting vaccinations, it is important for the central and local governments to proceed with measures to cope with the problem while promoting sufficient communication with each other.
The current stock of vaccines can cover 1.5 million swine, but this is not enough. The ministry has asked vaccine makers to increase their output. Efforts should be made as soon as possible to gather sufficient vaccines, which are needed.
It is also important to handle wild boars responsible for spreading the disease. The virus is believed to have been transmitted from one pack of wild boars to another through such places as springs in the mountains before adhering to people’s shoes or cars, which then spread the virus to pig farms.
It is indispensable to steadily continue the work started by the ministry this spring to target wild boars by scattering oral vaccines in food.
The export value of Japanese pork is about ¥1 billion yen annually. Concerns have been voiced about the impact of vaccinating farm pigs at a time when moves are being made to expand pork exports. The government should urge major export destinations, such as Hong Kong, to continue importing Japanese pork.