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Farm where hog cholera confirmed shipped pigs after noticing anomalies

Workers involved in the culling of pigs are seen at a farm in the Shiga Prefecture city of Omihachiman, where pigs were confirmed to have been infected with hog cholera, on Feb. 6, 2019. (Mainichi/Ryoichi Mochizuki)

TOKYO -- A pig farm in the central Japan prefecture of Aichi, a suspected source of a widening hog cholera outbreak, was allowed to continue shipping out young pigs even after prefectural veterinary officials noticed abnormal conditions in those animals in late January, according to prefectural and farm ministry officials.

Breeding facilities that received pigs from the Toyoda, Aichi farm tested positive for hog cholera. They are in the central Japan prefectures of Nagano and Gifu and the western Japan prefectures of Shiga and Osaka.

The finding has raised the possibility that a delay in restricting pig movements has led to the spread of infections in wide areas.

According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and other relevant bodies, the Toyota farm shipped young pigs to Nagano, Gifu, Shiga and Osaka prefectures as well as the western Japan prefecture of Mie since January. Pigs at the Mie farm tested negative for hog cholera while those at facilities in the four other prefectures tested positive.

According to the Aichi Prefectural Government, the Toyota farm reported on Feb. 4 that some of its pigs had a poor appetite, prompting prefectural veterinary officials to inspect the facility.

But no symptoms suspected of hog cholera were found among pigs at the facility after the officials measured their body temperature and tested their blood. Since some female pigs had miscarriages, the officials considered the possibility of other diseases.

At that point, the prefectural government did not restrict the movement of pigs, allowing the farm to ship 80 pigs to a farm in Miyada, Nagano Prefecture, at 7 a.m. on Feb. 5. Two hours later, Aichi officials asked the Toyota farm to refrain from moving pigs out of the facility in order to conduct tests on the animals to see if they had been infected with hog cholera. However, the local body stopped short of asking the farm to return the truck with the pigs that left for Miyada.

Questions have been raised over government responses to the problem. "I suspect that the national government and local bodies concerned failed to cooperate sufficiently," one critic said.

A government epidemiologic research team suspects that the series of infections was caused by food tainted with the hog cholera virus brought into Japan by those who had traveled overseas. The tainted food was then likely eaten by wild boars, which spread the virus to pigs kept at farms, say many observers.

The national government recommended that the authority of Gifu Prefecture where the first case of infection was found in September use traps to capture wild boars and set up fences to prevent wild boars from spreading the hog cholera virus.

Nevertheless, wild boars got infected in the western part of the neighboring prefecture of Aichi and infections have spread to the Toyota farm, proving that these countermeasures were not effective enough.

--- Officials bent on preventing African swine fever from entering Japan

Meanwhile, Japanese authorities are worried that a more virulent form of pig disease spreading in China may enter Japan with an increasing number of visitors from the country during the Lunar New Year holidays through mid-February.

African swine fever has a high death rate, and no vaccine or treatment is available. It is difficult to contain as its viruses spread through mites. "Its entry into Japan could cause more serious impacts," a senior farm ministry official said.

Since last year, Japanese immigration and quarantine authorities counted eight cases of items tainted with African swine fever viruses prevented from entering Japan. In response to the latest rise in the number of visitors from China, the Japanese government increased the number of sniffer dogs at major airports. They also deployed Chinese interpreters to warn tourists that bringing in pork products into Japan is prohibited in principle.

(Japanese original by Akiko Kato, Business News Department; Tatsuya Michinaga and Atsuko Ota, Nagoya News Center; and Masakatsu Oka, Gifu Bureau)

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