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Amid swine fever outbreak, Japan's government and farmers divided over vaccinating pigs

JIJI, Kyodo

The government and domestic pig farmers are divided over whether vaccinations should be carried out to prevent any further spread of swine fever infections in the country.

Many pig farmers near areas where the disease, also known as hog cholera, was recently confirmed are calling for their pigs to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

On the other hand, the government argues that it’s still too early for vaccinations, noting that the move will affect pork exports.

Since the first swine fever outbreak in Japan in 26 years was confirmed at a pig farm in Gifu Prefecture in September 2018, infections have also been found in four other prefectures — Aichi, Nagano, Shiga and Osaka. Earlier this month, infections were confirmed at several farms in the Aichi city of Tahara.

Authorities in Gifu on Tuesday announced another incident of swine fever at a farm in the prefecture.

On Friday, Katsumi Nakajima, head of the pig farmers association in Shizuoka Prefecture, and others urged agriculture minister Takamori Yoshikawa to decide on the use of swine fever vaccines.

Noting that the prefectures of Shizuoka and Aichi are in the same economic region, Nakajima said, “Our farmers will never be able to recover if their pigs get infected and are culled.” Tahara is located near the border with Shizuoka.

The ministry, however, remains opposed to vaccinations at the moment, with Yoshikawa saying that use of vaccines should be “the last resort.”

Farms without infected pigs would also have to vaccinate their animals if they are located in areas subject to a vaccination program, and sales of meat from vaccinated pigs could be affected by any negative perceptions, industry officials cautioned.

If pigs in Japan are vaccinated, the country will lose its status as being free of common swine fever (CSF), given by the World Organization for Animal Health. That, in turn, would probably lead many nations to restrict imports of Japanese pork, informed sources said.

Japan has previously tried to prevent swine fever infections under a nationwide vaccination program. But the ministry changed its policy later, and the country spent 11 years from 1996 working on becoming free of the disease without using vaccines.

A senior official at the ministry questioned the advisability of using vaccines at the cost of giving up the CSF-free status. The ministry is said to believe that there is a chance to stop the disease from spreading further through thorough hygiene control. It also suspects that many of the affected pig farms had not been taking basic steps — such as farmers changing out of rubber boots.

But some pig farmers argue that maximum hygiene control measures have already been taken.

Meanwhile, African swine fever, which is more powerful than CSF, is spreading in China. Effective vaccines against ASF have yet to be developed.

A lawmaker in Japan’s ruling coalition has also stressed the need to boost hygiene controls, without depending on vaccines.