【Editorial】 Communities should work together on livestock epidemic prevention (Feb. 8, 2014)


Livestock animals are exposed to a number of infectious diseases. Highly pathogenic avian influenza is rampant in South Korea, while foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks are reported in Asian countries. In Japan, porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) is spreading in a number of prefectures. Their impact is large because the livestock industry extends to markets, retailers, restaurants and meat processing firms. Moreover, movement of people increases in spring, and so is the risk of infection. Communities should not leave the task of disease prevention only to farmers and do everything possible to keep the virus out of the barns.

A dangerous new strain of H5N8 avian flu which emerged in South Korea in January has proliferated to 12 cities in six provinces, including suspected cases, as of Thursday, Feb. 6. 1.11 million ducks and 1.71 million farm birds were slaughtered by Wednesday, Feb. 5. The South Korean government suspects migratory birds are the source of the outbreak. Foot-and-mouth disease cases were reported in Russia’s Zabaykalye territory, located near the Chinese and Mongolian borders, and in Sukhbaartar province, Mongolia, located near the Chinese border. The disease infection was confirmed in the autonomous region of Tibet in China, and has not shown any sign of being stamped out.

Meanwhile, a PED virus infection was reported in Okinawa Prefecture in October last year, followed by another case in Kumamoto Prefecture in late January. A total of 149 cases have been confirmed in five prefectures so far. The disease had also been found in China, South Korea and Taiwan, and the first case of PED in the United States was identified in April 2013. According to the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, the virus was confirmed in 2,394 cases in 23 states by early January.

The risks of infection are higher than ever, due to increasing movements of people. In addition to the Winter Olympic games held in Sochi, Russia, many people in Japan move or travel at home and abroad in spring which is the beginning of a fiscal year. According to the education ministry, a total of 58,000 students went abroad to study in 2010, out of which more than 20,000 went to South Korea, China or Taiwan. Meanwhile, foreign students who came to Japan amounted to some 135,000 as of May 2012, with students from South Korea, China and Taiwan occupying 80 percent of the total. It is necessary to take precautions against transfers of disease-causing germs among people coming to or leaving Japan, including tourists. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is strengthening quarantine inspection at ports of entry such as airports.

Livestock farmers should also make every possible effort to prevent infections at their farms. The key is to take measures to avoid disease agents from entering their farms. They should avoid unnecessary visits to crowded places and other farms. When going abroad, they should carefully check the situation regarding infectious diseases in the destinations. The agriculture ministry offers online information on the cases of bird flu and foot-and-mouth disease overseas. PED could kill baby pigs, but adult pigs infected with the disease only show mild illness and might go unnoticed. If their animals show any signs of being infected, farmers should immediately report to livestock hygiene service centers and take necessary disease control measures.

Costs for disease prevention pose a big burden on farmers who are already pressured by rising feed and fuel prices. However, spread of infectious diseases would have an immeasurable impact on agricultural communities and could even trigger deterioration of the livestock industry.

The livestock industry has supported regional agriculture through cooperation with crop farmers. Amid movements to increase production of rice used as livestock feed, prospects for the program itself would become unclear if feed demand declines. This is not a problem only of livestock farmers. The whole community should work together to protect the animals.

(Feb. 8, 2014)

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