Newly appointed Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Taku Eto has expressed his determination to take decisive action on measures for ending the spread of swine fever in Japan, including whether to administer vaccines to pigs.

“We practically only have nine months until we are stripped of our status as a swine fever-free country” under the rules of the World Organization for Animal Health, or OIE, Eto said during an interview Thursday. “The severity of the issue is increasing, and we don’t have time.”

Eto also criticized ongoing import curbs introduced by countries such as China and South Korea after the March 2011 triple meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

“Food safety should be ensured on the basis of scientific facts, and Japan has one of the strictest safety standards when it comes to radioactive materials,” the minister said. “South Korea reportedly expressed worries over Fukushima food products at a meeting about the Tokyo Olympics, but I found that to be wrong.”

Swine fever was confirmed on Sept. 9, 2018, in Gifu Prefecture. The disease has since spread to pig farms in other prefectures.

“We may decide to vaccinate pigs, or we may decide not to vaccinate and to be more thorough in sanitation management,” Eto said. “We will probably be criticized for whichever decision we make, but I will accept that.”

The minister also spoke of his wish for increased funding to aid domestic farmers, especially in the face of a new trade agreement with the United States.

“There are some who say that no additional aid is necessary if (tariff cuts on agricultural goods) are within Trans-Pacific Partnership standards, as promised in the U.S.-Japan joint statement,” Eto said. “But we need more money for agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Fisheries reform has just begun, and it can’t be continued without funding.”

“This would not be throwing money around. We will examine the content of the trade agreement and discuss how to revise our basic policy outlines (for domestic measures in response to the TPP and other agreements),” he added.

On the issue of expanding exports of agricultural goods, Eto said that Japan should play to its strengths.

“What is important is the idea that we produce what others want, such as wagyu and fruits,” he said. “We must be cautious in preventing the outflow of fertilized wagyu eggs and protecting intellectual property such as variety registration so as not to lose our advantages.”

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