The Taipei-based Swine Association strongly urged the government Saturday not to vaccinate the country's pigs against foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) , despite outbreaks of the disease in central Taiwan earlier this month.
The practice of vaccinating pigs against the disease had nearly been eliminated in Taiwan by the end of last year, but with the recent outbreaks at two farms in Yunlin and Changhua counties, the Council of Agriculture (COA) reportedly intends to resume the practice nationwide.
The COA Bureau of Animal and Plant Health declined to comment on the reports, but said "it is about the science. We will make the final decision after talking with the Swine Association and experts." Swine Association Chairman Pen Lien-chou said the reported move would waste the efforts of the past 12 years to build a "zero-vaccine" environment in Taiwan, a key requirement needed to be designated as FMD-free by the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
Pen urged the government to remain determined to wipe out the FMD virus and turn Taiwan into an "FMD-free" country.
Lai Shiow-suey, a professor in National Taiwan University's Department of Veterinary Medicine, stressed that it is very important for Taiwan to become an "FMD-free" country again in consideration of domestic pig farmers' benefits.
Only by being declared "FMD-free" can Taiwan resume pork exports, which will help raise local pig farmers' income and improve Taiwan's image and competitiveness in the industry, Lai said.
He suggested that the government devote the funds allocated to a renewed vaccination campaign to paying pig farmers subsidies worth 80 percent of the cost of pigs culled during sudden bouts with disease.
That would encourage the farmers to report outbreaks earlier and make it easier to eradicate the disease.
Lai urged the government to continue to move toward the goal of eliminating all FMD vaccines by March.
Taiwan launched a program beginning in April 2007 to stop giving hogs anti-FMD vaccines. Through the program, the proportion of pigs on the island not receiving vaccines increased from 10 percent in 2007 to over 90 percent as of November 2008.
FMD vaccinations were expected to be terminated in March, but the schedule has been disrupted due to the recent outbreak, Pen said.
Taiwan was first hit by FMD outbreaks in 1997, which forced the government to cull 3.8 million pigs and delivered a heavy blow to Taiwan's pork exports.
Taiwan once raised as many as 12 million pigs per year at its peak, with 7 million exported to Japan annually. Exports have stopped since the outbreak and Taiwan now raises about 6.4 million pigs a year, mainly for local consumption.