National

Japan's government warns of 'extremely serious situation' as swine fever spreads to five prefectures

Kyodo

A swine fever epidemic is continuing to spread in Japan, with local authorities in five central and western Japan prefectures saying Wednesday they are struggling to contain the highly contagious pig virus that was first reported in September.

“We are facing an extremely serious situation,” agriculture minister Takamori Yoshikawa told a meeting at his ministry in Tokyo while instructing officials to take thorough countermeasures. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries also set up a special task force in Gifu Prefecture to step up containment efforts.

Spilling over from farms in Gifu, the classical swine fever (CSF) virus was newly detected by prefectural and local authorities at farms in neighboring Aichi as well as in Osaka, Shiga and Nagano prefectures.

The total number of pigs to be culled at affected farms is expected to reach 15,000.

“It worries me that we don’t know how the disease is spreading,” said a pig farmer in Iida, Nagano Prefecture. “The only thing we can do is to thoroughly manage hygiene.”

The disease does not affect humans even if meat from an infected animal is consumed, but it is fatal to pigs.

Around 130 wild boars in Gifu and Aichi prefectures have tested positive for infection despite experts’ initial assumption that it would not spread among the animals, which typically do not live in large herds.

The World Organization for Animal Health suspended Japan’s status as a CSF-free country after the outbreak in September. Although there is a vaccine to counter the disease, using it could prevent Japan from regaining the CSF-free status and hinder the nation’s plan to expand pork exports.

Yasuhiro Ozato, a senior vice agriculture minister, expressed reluctance to use the vaccine, saying, “We will seek to resolve this by adhering to hygiene control standards.”

The Aichi Prefectural Government began culling around 6,600 pigs at a farm in the city of Toyota with the help of the Ground Self-Defense Force, while banning shipments from six farms located within 10 kilometers of the farm.

The farm in Toyota had shipped pigs to six facilities in Nagano, Gifu, Aichi, Mie, Shiga and Osaka prefectures since January. The ministry has not detected the virus in Mie.

The farm in Toyota reported to the prefectural government Monday that its pigs were showing symptoms of infection, including loss of appetite, and the prefecture detected the swine fever virus in five pigs the following day. Detailed tests by the state government confirmed the infection on Wednesday.

The Aichi Prefectural Government said the farm in Toyota shipped pigs to a Nagano Prefecture farm Tuesday morning, even after noticing hog cholera symptoms among them, as prefectural authorities suspected another illness and did not stop shipments.

Of the 80 pigs brought to the farm in Miyada, Nagano, 79 were found to have been infected with the virus, according to the Nagano Prefectural Government.

A man involved in pig farming who lives near the Toyota farm said, “There was a vet at the company (managing the farm). I thought they were taking thorough preventive measures.”

Swine fever was detected at a farm in the city of Gifu in September, the first such discovery in Japan since 1992, and has been found in over 100 wild boars across Gifu and Aichi prefectures.