The campaign to rid the country of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) has entered a critical period, with hog farms around the nation gradually halting the vaccination of their pigs in five phases beginning yesterday.
Council of Agriculture officials in charge of animal health inspection and quarantine asked for local hog and swine farmers to cooperate with the government in an effort to wipe out the highly contagious animal disease once and for all.
Foot-and-mouth disease is one of the most contagious diseases among mammals and has great potential to cause severe economic losses. It affects cloven-hoofed animals.
A major outbreak in March 1997 dealt a severe blow to the nation's hog industry, as affected countries are banned from exporting pork and related products.
The outbreak 10 years ago led to the culling of millions of hogs, and all pig farmers have since been required to have their animals vaccinated regularly.
Thanks to the concerted efforts of the public and private sectors, no further cases have been reported since February 2001.
On May 22, 2004, the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) recognized Taiwan as an "FMD-free zone with vaccination."
The government's ultimate goal is to obtain OIE certification as an "FMD-free zone without vaccination" within two years, COA officials said, adding that to achieve this goal, local hog farms must stop vaccinating their livestock in a gradual manner beginning this month.
Inoculation of pigs raised on the outlying island of Penghu has been suspended on an experimental basis since March last year.
As the program has proceeded smoothly, the council has decided to expand the experiment to hog farms on Taiwan proper in five stages.
Each stage will last for four months. In the first stage, only hogs raised in the center pen of each ranch will stop receiving inoculation. Those hogs will be subject to close surveillance and health checks.
During the second stage, inoculation should stop for pigs in one pen in each barn and for the third stage, vaccination should cease for pigs in one-third of the pens in each barn.
For the fourth stage, inoculation should stop for pigs in half of the pens in each barn.
For the first four states, inoculation of stud pigs and grass-eating herbivores, including cattle, goat and deer, will not be ceased.
If all goes well, the vaccination cessation project will enter the fifth and final stage in August next year, with an across-the-board suspension of inoculations.
OIE regulations, a country can be listed as "FMD-free without vaccination" only if no vaccinations have been administered for a full year and if no new cases have been reported during that period, which means that Taiwancould reclaim "FMD-free zone without vaccination" status in 2009 at the earliest.
After being declared an "FMD-free zone with vaccination" in 2004, exports of local pork to Japan partially resumed -- for cooked or processed pork products -- with an annual value of about NT$100 million (US$3 million).
Prior to the 1997 epidemic, Taiwan was raising more than 14 million hogs a year, with annual production value amounting to NT$100 billion, half of which was generated from pork exports to Japan.
The disease has had a serious adverse impact on Taiwan's livestock and foodstuff industries. Over the past decade,
The nation's annual hog production has dropped steadily, to only 7.09 million hogs last year, with the industry's total annual production value falling to below NT$60 billion.
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