Japan remains in an uphill battle to contain swine fever a year after confirming its first case of the infectious disease in 26 years.
Infections have been found at pig farms in Gifu, where the outbreak began on Sept. 9 last year, and seven other prefectures — Aichi, Nagano, Fukui, Mie, Osaka, Shiga and Saitama — and roughly 130,000 pigs have been culled.
Wild boars have also been found infected in Toyama, Ishikawa, Gifu, Aichi, Nagano, Fukui and Mie prefectures.
Measures taken so far to prevent the disease from spreading have not been successful, and discussions are still underway on whether vaccinations, a step sought by many pig farmers, should be pursued.
“I won’t be able to restart my business unless vaccination is carried out,” said a farmer in Gifu whose pigs were slaughtered after some tested positive for the disease, also known as pig cholera.
Over the past year, the Gifu Prefectural Government has slaughtered over 60,000 pigs, more than half of its population of domesticated pigs . Earlier this month, however, a new case was confirmed in Nakatsugawa.
Infections had initially been concentrated in Gifu and Aichi, but Nagano, Shiga and Osaka faced outbreaks on a relatively limited scale after receiving shipments of infected piglets.
In July the disease spread to Mie and Fukui, prompting Mie Gov. Eikei Suzuki to say the situation “has entered a new phase.”
A pig farmer in Toyama braced for more bad news.
“I wanted the disease to be contained within the outbreak areas,” the farmer said.
Cases were also reported just last week in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture.
In the meantime, the agriculture ministry remains dismissive about the idea of vaccinating pigs.
“It’s the next-best policy,” said Takamori Yoshikawa, who was the agriculture minister at the time of his comment.
The ministry is particularly concerned that vaccination could lead to a decline in pork exports as the use of such medicines would cause Japan to lose its status as a country free of swine fever under the rules of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
Under the circumstances, the government is considering separating areas where pigs will be vaccinated from those that won’t be vaccinated, and strictly prohibiting meat and other parts from pigs raised in the vaccination areas from being transported out of those regions.
Under that plan, the areas without vaccinations would be allowed to retain their swine fever-free status, and exports of pork from the areas could continue.
Distributors in potential vaccination areas strongly oppose the plan, however, arguing the measure will affect pork sales.
Smaller governments, which are responsible for distribution management, voiced anxiety.
A senior official in the Nagano Prefectural Government said: “How can we manage distribution? The central government should take charge of tackling the problem.”
The agriculture ministry believes pig farms should strengthen their hygiene control to prevent infections.
“Basic steps taken by pig farm workers to prevent the disease, such as washing hands and changing clothes, have been insufficient,” a high-ranking ministry official said, citing the results of a survey it conducted in addition to other materials.
Pig farms in Japan would “be destroyed” if the nation doesn’t prevent the spread of African swine fever, which has ripped through Asia, the official warned.
Another pressing task facing Japan is to promote efforts to prevent its spread among wild boars, an apparent source of pig infections.
Over 1,000 infected wild boars have been found and the ministry and municipal and other governments plan to increase vaccinations.
In the wake of the outbreaks, the Paris-based OIE has suspended Japan’s swine fever-free status. The suspension will be lifted if Japan brings the situation under control within two years of the outbreak’s start.
If it fails, Japan will be stripped of the swine fever-free status, regardless of whether pig vaccinations are adopted or not, meaning time is running out to find a solution.