Swine fever reported at public research institute as Gifu Prefecture logs third case this year

Kyodo

Officials from the city of Minokamo, Gifu Prefecture, said Wednesday that a case of classical swine fever has been discovered at a public research institute — the third such case of the virus being reported this year and just over a decade since it was official declared eradicated in Japan.

The latest case follows infections reported in September at a pig farm and another at a public livestock center park in November, both in the same Gifu city.

The prefectural government began culling hogs at the research institute, which breeds about 500 pigs for the development of brand-name pork products, after two animals tested positive for the virus that has a high mortality rate. Swine fever does not affect humans even if an infected animal is consumed. The outbreaks at public facilities could spark criticism against the local authority, which is at the forefront of measures to protect livestock.

At a meeting held Wednesday to respond to the outbreak, the minister of agriculture, Takamori Yoshikawa, said, “It is extremely serious that the infection was detected at the prefectural institute. It will have a huge impact.” The minister said he may visit Gifu to deal with the outbreak.

Gifu Gov. Hajime Furuta apologized at the meeting, saying, “We are very sorry that the outbreak occurred at the prefectural facility, which is supposed to have well-prepared preventive measures in place.”

Deputy Gov. Takanori Kawai told reporters, “We make every effort in implementing preventive measures at core livestock industry facilities, but the positive test result indicates there was a failure in the process.”

According to the prefecture, on Monday, staff at the facility noticed four pigs had lost their appetite. In tests conducted by the central government, infections were confirmed in two of the pigs on Wednesday.

There have also been 63 confirmed cases of wild boars in four municipalities neighboring Minokamo being infected with the virus.

The virus detected in the two pigs at the research institute matched the type found in the first two cases and the wild boars.

In the outbreak on Sept. 9, prefectural and city officials initially made an incorrect diagnosis that several pigs in a weakened state were suffering from heat exhaustion. The livestock center park where the Nov. 16 outbreak occurred was found to have violated rules of hygiene.

Some farmers and experts have criticized the response by authorities to the third outbreak.

“The administration has been treating these outbreaks too lightly. It’s incredible that this has happened again,” said a Gifu hog farmer.

He noted that even private animal husbandry farms follow hygiene rules as a matter of course, referring to the second outbreak at the park, which was found not to have strictly observed rules such as wearing specifically designated clothing when handling pigs.

“I can’t believe that the infections occurred in a prefectural facility,” said a 70-year-old man who lives near the institute and who attended a local briefing session. “(The facility) was not very conscientious” about preventing the epidemic, he added.

“It is possible that even within the same prefectural organization, awareness differed between the department that gave guidance to farmers on animal control and the department that encouraged production,” said Masuo Sueyoshi, head of the University of Miyazaki’s Division of Prevention and Control for Animal Diseases.

Before the virus was detected in September, swine fever was last seen in the country in Kumamoto Prefecture in 1992 when five pigs were infected. The government declared the virus eradicated in 2007.