Gov. Hideo Higashikokubaru of Miyazaki Prefecture on Aug. 27 declared the end of the foot-and-mouth disease crisis that started in April in his prefecture. Some 289,000 farm animals were destroyed during the crisis. Both the central and prefectural governments should not let their guard down because the declaration is based on the completion of the work to turn animal waste into compost, not on the confirmation of the eradication of the virus. Many weak points surfaced during the crisis. One problem was the slowness in taking necessary initial steps to contain the disease. At the initial stage, the Miyazaki prefectural government sent samples to a laboratory in Tokyo for gene testing. Later it switched to examining photographs of animals in deciding whether to destroy them.

A clear rule must be set down as to what to do when animals have developed symptoms that appear to be foot-and-mouth disease. More laboratories to conduct gene tests also should be established.

The infectious livestock disease prevention law requires farmers to destroy affected animals and bury their carcasses. Since there were few farmers with sufficient land to bury carcasses, it took a long time to destroy the animals, which contributed to the spread of the disease. Too many animals were also kept in limited spaces and livestock farms were not sufficiently far apart. Measures to overcome these problems must be taken.

The farm ministry should pay attention to views expressed by local government officials and take necessary steps. They called for wider use of private-sector veterinarians in preventing the spread of the disease, improvement of cooperation between central and local government organizations and the establishment of a system to forcibly carry out epidemiological surveys.

In this age of rapid and expanded movement of people between Japan and abroad, there is a danger that humans infected with the foot-and-mouth virus will bring the disease into Japan. A system must be established to quickly take quarantine and disinfection measures once a suspected case is found among livestock.

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