Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) has directed the Council of Agriculture (COA) to collaborate with local governments in dealing with two cases of foot-and-mouth-disease that occurred in central Taiwan earlier this month, Government Information Office Minister Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) said yesterday.
Su's comments came after the council confirmed on Wednesday that the disease had broken out on two hog farms — one in Yunlin County and another in Changhua County.
Su said the animals that fell ill had not been vaccinated against the disease.
The council's Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine said that samples collected at the two sites showed that the virus that had caused the outbreak was the same type as the one found in 1997.
In a bid to contain the latest outbreak, health workers have slaughtered 677 hogs from both farms, disinfected hog farms within a 3km radius of each outbreak site and banned the movement of animals in these areas, the Chinese-language United Daily News said.
Officials promised to keep a close watch on the latest developments and to take action to prevent diseased pork from reaching the market.
They also sought to reassure the public that all pork on the market was safe to consume.
To avoid a drastic drop in retail prices, the bureau said it had asked the National Animal Industry Foundation to adjust its daily pork production by a maximum of 5 percent.
The incident nonetheless caused sales in Changhua County's Sihu Township (溪湖), one of the nation's main pork production sites, to drop by 20 percent.
The new outbreak will delay Taiwan's application to the World Organization of Animal Health to obtain foot-and-mouth free status by at least 18 months, COA officials said.
However, this will not affect the council's policy of phasing out inoculations for foot-and-mouth disease, the bureau said.
“Should we continue the practice, we will not be able to find residual viruses in the environment,” the bureau said.
“The inoculation will generate antibodies in pigs, meaning the pigs might not show signs of foot-and-mouth disease even if they are infected,” the bureau said.
The 1997 epidemic prompted the culling of 3.8 million pigs and destroyed pork exports as foreign markets halted imports. In recent years, only a few countries and regions have partially resumed pork imports.
Before the 1997 outbreak, around 12 million hogs were raised annually, with 7 million exported to Japan, the top buyer of Taiwan's hogs and pork products.
Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Singapore import small quantities of pork or pork products.
Current production stands at 6.4 million pigs a year, mostly for domestic consumption.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHELLEY SHAN