TAIPEI (The China Post/ANN) — Members of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) will vote on Monday to determine whether Taiwan can regain its status as a Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) free country without vaccination.
Once the change of status is approved, Taiwan might be able to regain the multi-billion pork exporting business it used to enjoy 23 years ago.
The FMD virus, named “O/Taiwan/97,” is highly contagious, airborne and can only infect pigs, even though it is also capable of living in the human respiratory system for weeks.
In March 1997, several cases of FMD were discovered in a slaughterhouse in Hsinchu county.
In the months ensued, the situation escalated into five thousand swineherds losing their jobs, soldiers performing mess pig electrocution and an estimated loss of NT$$212 billion in the industry.
The FMD vaccine effectively prevents the spread of the virus, but since it is hard to determine whether the antibiotics come from a living virus or the vaccine, Taiwan cannot export raw pork until it is recognized for having zero FMD cases without the help of the immunization.
In July 2019, Taiwan had successfully maintained FMD free without the vaccine for a year and was able to file a request for a change of status, which had to be unanimously approved by OIE member countries.
Since COVID-19, the voting that was supposed to take place in Paris is being conducted electronically. So far, 150 out of 180 members have passed the request without objections.
Nevertheless, as Deputy Minister of the Council of Agriculture Huang Chin-Cheng (黃金城) remarked, it might take several months for Taiwan trade partners to inspect the facilities before domestic retailers can finally start exporting raw pork again.
Huang noted that compared to the pork on the international market, the Taiwanese pork tastes better but is also more expensive. If retailers should require assistance for negotiations in the future, the government will be in the position of support, he said.