Photo/IllutrationShingo Kanematsu, a hog farmer, looks at his empty pig pen, which he built in March 2018, in Seki, Gifu Prefecture, on Aug. 23. (Shoko Matsuura)

SEKI, Gifu Prefecture--The swine cholera nightmare continues in Gifu Prefecture after the culling of more than 60,000 pigs and what farmers say has been ineffective and even ridiculous responses by the central government.

More than half of the pig population has been culled in the prefecture since the first case of swine cholera was confirmed on Sept. 9 a year ago.

Farmers have tried to take measures to halt the spread of the disease, also known as swine fever, but a new case was confirmed on Sept. 5 in Nakatsugawa, Gifu Prefecture.

Some local groups appear to be showing little sympathy over the plight of the hog farmers. Gifu officials say vaccinations are desperately needed to save the livestock, but Tokyo seems overly concerned about the possibility of negative effects on pork exports.

If the situation continues unchanged, some farmers fear that pigs could completely disappear from Gifu Prefecture.

Shingo Kanematsu, a 56-year-old farmer in Seki who had reared more than 8,000 pigs, recalled the time when he learned that his farm was infected with swine cholera on Dec. 24, 2018.

“I wish this was just a bad dream,” he said he thought at the time.

Epidemic prevention workers flocked to the site on Christmas Eve. The sounds from their work to assemble a temporary tent reverberated around the farm, while the lights they used brightened the surrounding areas.

Earlier that year, in March, Kanematsu had built a new pig pen at a cost of 25 million yen ($233,000).

After the automatic feeder had stopped, his starving pigs made squawking sounds that still ring in his ears.

The pigs that he had cherished were buried swiftly and unceremoniously.

Kanematsu had taken over the family’s farming business from his father. A graduate of the department of veterinary medicine at a college, Kanematsu focused on hygiene control by introducing cutting-edge equipment to provide high-quality pork.

Nine months after the culling at his farm, Kanematsu still asks himself, “Why were our pigs infected?”

After the start of 2019, he encountered a notice that poured salt on his wounds.

The document was written under the name of all executives of a neighborhood community association.

“Please reopen your farm in an area far from where humans live,” the notice read. “We have been suffering from the awful stench and other problems.”

Kanematsu said he still believed some people in Seki understood his business and what he has been going through, but he was shocked at the request.

Many pig farms are located near forests to keep the animals’ odors and noises away from people. But such locations put the hogs at risk of infection from what is believed to be the main carrier of swine cholera: wild boars.

“Hog farms across the nation have been struggling against severe working environments and stiff competition,” Kanematsu said. “I also need to make an effort to obtain the ability to tackle the situation.”

Despite his resolution to protect his business, he still has no plan to reopen his farm.

VACCINATIONS CALLED FOR

Swine cholera has infected hog farms in 12 towns or cities in the prefecture since Sept. 9, 2018.

Gifu Governor Hajime Furuta, who is also general director of the prefectural task force for the epidemic prevention of livestock, was saddened to hear on Aug. 17 that more than half of the pigs in the prefecture were killed after hogs were found infected at the 22nd farm in the prefecture.

The task force has held nearly 40 meetings since swine fever was first confirmed in the prefecture.

The central government has asked Gifu officials and farmers to follow the management standards for livestock sanitation to prevent further infections.

In response, hog farmers have taken countermeasures, such as using nets to keep out birds or having their pigs walk on limes for sterilization. But at many of those farms, pigs still have been infected.

Although wild boars are believed to be the biggest spreaders of the disease, the epidemiological study team under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said, “The possibility of flies or rats having mediated the viruses cannot be denied.”

The team asked farm operators to set up adhesive sheets to trap flies and spread poison to kill rodents.

However, one exasperated farm operator asked, “Is it possible for a hog farm in nature to shut out every single fly?”

More than 16,000 Gifu prefectural workers have been involved in culling operations and other infection prevention measures.

One of the workers said: “We cannot hold on any more. We would like the central government to allow the farmers to vaccinate their pigs as soon as possible. All staff members are hoping for that measure.”

The central government has not yet allowed vaccinations of pigs over fears that pork exports could be prohibited if Japan becomes a “non-swine-cholera-free country” based on international rules. In addition, some officials worry that vaccinations might lower the farmers’ diligence on hygiene control, which could lead to the spread of other diseases.

“The situation is almost like the central government is just waiting for the time when all pigs are gone from Gifu Prefecture,” a hog farmer said.

(This article was written by Shoko Matsuura and Takuro Yamano.)