The Council of Agriculture (COA) yesterday announced that foot-and-mouth disease has been eliminated from Taiwan, as no case had been detected in the past year, without vaccination, 23 years after an outbreak put a halt to the nation’s pork exports.
“I hereby announce that Taiwan, Penghu and Matsu have succeeded in ‘pulling the vaccine needles’ [prevention without vaccination],” COA Minister Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) told a news conference in Taipei.
The council would apply by September for the nation to be removed from the World Organization for Animal Health’s (OIA) list of foot-and-mouth disease-free zones where vaccination is practiced, which would mean it could officially declare itself to be free of foot-and-mouth disease next year, he said.
The 1997 outbreak stopped the export of pork products to Japan, and in the years since then, the number of pigs raised in Taiwan fell from more than 10 million to about 5 million, while the number of pig farms plunged from about 25,000 to 7,200.
The outbreak cost the industry about NT$170 billion (US$5.5 billion at the current exchange rate), he said.
COA Deputy Minister Huang Chin-cheng (黃金城) said the outbreak in Taiwan began on March 20, 1997, and the timing and virus strain detected suggested that the source was China.
Photo: Chien Hui-ju, Taipei Times
Lower pork and pig prices in China resulted in people smuggling piglets from China to the Hsinchu (新竹) area, he said.
Within a few months, foot-and-mouth disease spread across the nation, causing pork prices to collapse as consumers shunned pork products, while the military was called in to help bury massive numbers of culled pigs, Huang said.
Although pigs culls and vaccinations had been used to prevent the spread of the disease, a “pulling the needles” trial in 2009 failed as the disease erupted again as soon as vaccinations stopped.
However, no cases have been reported since the nation stopped vaccination on July 1 last year, so hopefully the nation will be declared as a foot-and-mouth disease-free zone by the OIA in May next year, he said.
The key to the success was that the vaccination rate was more than 90 percent before vaccination was stopped last year, and annual tests for antibodies against the virus have been conducted on 1,860 pig farms and more than 40,000 pork product items, the results of which showed that the antibody rate was more than 85 percent, he said.
The vaccination program was stopped after monitoring found that pigs without antibodies against the virus did not get infected after living with other pigs on farms for more than 18 hours, he added.
The success was due to the government’s insistence on the policy, cooperation from the industry and the effective implementation of related technology, Huang said.
Chen said the council hopes Taiwan’s pork products will still be mainly provided to the domestic market, as about 5 to 10 percent of demand relies on imported pork, which has become more expensive with the outbreak of African swine flu in China and other nations.
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