Amending of procedures for diagnosing avian influenza virus infection, maximizing defenses against epidemics
In early 2012, there was an outbreak of H5N2 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). This was an event of major concern to the entire nation, and many questions were raised about the timeliness and effectiveness of the procedures for diagnosing and confirming cases of avian influenza. The COA held numerous meetings with scholars, experts, industry groups, and local disease control centers in order to deal with potential problems or inadequacies in the procedures. The COA made necessary improvements to maximize our disease control capacity. The most important measures adopted were as follows:
Clarification of the division of labor and responsibilities for identifying cases: The COA’s Animal Health Research Institute is responsible for testing and confirming the pathogenicity of cases, while the COA’s Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (BAPHIQ) is in charge of administrative matters related to disease control and response.
Amendment of HPAI testing methods: Revised rules were announced on June 26, 2012, that take into account concepts of risk management and add a chapter on overall standards for case confirmations, providing clear definitions of cases of HPAI and LPAI (low pathogenic avian influenza), simplifying testing procedures, reducing the time for case confirmations, and raising the efficiency of disease-control response.
Revision of standards and procedures for reporting of H5 and H7 subtypes of avian influenza: Where a case of HPAI avian flu has been confirmed, the COA will immediately notify the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and release the news to the media. Where a case of LPAI has been confirmed, besides notifying the OIE, we will upload the information on to BAPHIQ’s network devoted to avian influenza. We will guide and advise farmers and ensure that proper procedures are followed for disease reporting, transmission of testing results, and announcements of the disease situation, making disease information more transparent and avoiding misunderstandings about case confirmations.
Adoption of standardized operating procedures in the event of incidence of avian influenza at poultry (wholesale) markets, poultry collecting locations, and/or slaughterhouses: We strengthened measures for dealing with avian influenza cases at the above locations, including reporting of cases, trace-back to the source, and cleaning and disinfection to decrease the possibility of the spread of disease.
Implementation of blanket inspections and intensified surveillance, in order to take timely measures to control suspected cases: In 2012 cities and counties across Taiwan completed 37,099 visits for a nationwide clinical inspection of poultry farms, and also conducted active monitoring for avian flu on 1,319 farms. Also, the COA continued to strengthen monitoring and sampling in high-risk areas where migratory birds stop over, aiming to provide timely warnings and to handle suspicious cases; in 2012 we tested 4086 dropping samples of migratory birds, without finding any H5 or H7 subtypes of HPAI cases.
By taking the above-mentioned measures, we now have established standardized norms and operating procedures for dealing with avian influenza. In the future we will continue to closely follow the international disease situation and adopt suggestions that will help us better control and respond to avian influenza, so that the domestic poultry industry can develop normally and continuously.
“Conditional opening” to US beef imports with ractopamine, while taking public health and the local animal husbandry industry into account
Back in 2007, Taiwan notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) to expect delivery of our draft rules governing “maximum residue levels” (MRL) for ractopamine. The plan immediately drew strong opposition from the domestic pork industry, and in September of that year we notified the WTO of a postponement. To deal with this long-unresolved issue, in 2012 the Executive Yuan took two major steps. (1) It decided to undertake a policy analysis based on the principle “expert assessments, risk management.” (2) It created a technical consultative committee under the Special Task Force on Food and Drug Safety This committee membership was set to include the Minister of the Council of Agriculture (chair) and representatives from relevant agencies including the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Department of Health, the COA, and the Department of Consumer Protection, and also invited experts in medicine, public health, food, pharmacology, toxicology, veterinary medicine, and animal husbandry to participate in deliberations.
After three conferences, the government then proposed a four-point plan for dealing with the issue: (1 )safe tolerance levels, (2) separate consideration for pork and beef, (3) compulsory labeling, and (4) exclusion of cattle offal. This amounted to a “conditional lifting of the ban” on beef that was produced using ractopamine as a feed additive. This plan is based on the precondition that ractopamine as an additive in animal feed poses no concerns about the safety of the meat produced, and takes into account the development of the domestic animal husbandry industry, international trade and trade liberalization, regional economic integration, and foreign relations.
In July of 2012 the UN’s Codex Alimentaris Commission adopted an MRL of 10 ppb for ractopamine in beef. On September 11 of 2012, pursuant to amendments to the Act Governing Food Sanitation passed on August 8, the Department of Health announced an amended version of Article 3 of the Standards for Residues of Veterinary Pharmaceuticals, setting the permissible safe level of ractopamine residue in beef at 10 ppb. Just prior to that, on September 7, the COA had announced that β-agonist was henceforth classified as a medical feed additive whose production, preparation, import, export, sale or display is banned, but with the exception it could be used as an additive in medicated feed for cattle. However, it remains banned for use in pigs or poultry, thereby conforming to the policy of keeping pork and beef standards separate. In addition, β-agonist that is used as an additive in medicated feed may not be used until it receives approval for manufacture or import under the provisions of the Veterinary Drugs Control Act.
In order to prevent livestock farms from illegally using β-agonist, the COA has strengthened monitoring and management of the use of pharmaceuticals by livestock and poultry farmers. We have made specific arrangements for local governments at the municipal, city, and county level, working with pharmacology inspectors, to visit livestock ranches and meat markets to take samples and test products for pharmaceuticals. In 2012, samples were tested for 12,443 hogs, 300 cattle, 300 sheep, 453 chickens, 463 ducks, and 409 geese, for a total of 14,368 tests; there were 10 cases in which test results did not conform to standards. We have also stepped up highly focused measures to monitor β-agonist at the source, by targeting high-risk operators (such as hog farmers who make their own feed for their own animals, those who raise black pigs and whose products are sold outside of wholesale meat markets, and those who have previously had tests come up positive). Since March of 2012 we have tested 11,024 samples (based on an automatic sampling rate plus sampling at meat markets), all of which have conformed to standards.
The COA has been working with the Department of Health to enforce the mandatory labeling requirements for the place-of-origin of beef products, as mandated by the Act Governing Food Sanitation. We have been working through local governments and cattle slaughterhouses to distribute labels identifying domestic beef. In 2012 we held 21 events to illustrate the labeling policy for domestic beef and visited 272 points of sale for domestic beef, to assist sellers of domestic beef to fully implement the labeling regulations. We have also created a traceability system for domestic beef that meets the needs of the industry. Domestic cattle are tagged with ear tags and files are created for each one’s place of origin. The traceability system is a linked chain of information that includes data from sellers, slaughterhouses, and beef-cattle farms. This data is transparent and available to consumers, which should help to differentiate domestic beef from imported beef and provide consumers with peace of mind.
Revitalizing continuously fallow land, restoring value to farmland, attracting new people into agriculture
Given abnormalities in global climate and instability in the international food supply, we can expect rises in grain prices to become a long-term trend. In addition, with the development of the animal husbandry industry in recent years, domestic supply of feed corn and fodder accounts for only 1% and 45%, respectively, of annual demand. A survey in 2011 showed that Taiwan had about 200,000 hectares of fallow land. Of this, about 50,000 hectares of farmland were continuously fallow for both growing seasons in the year, meaning that this land created no production value or job opportunities. In some cases, the fallow land was neglected and mismanaged, allowing insects and rats to thrive and negatively affect neighboring farmland. Moreover, the subsidy of NT$90,000 per year for continuously fallow land is higher than the rent, creating a disincentive for the owners to rent the land to tenant farmers (either new farmers or current farmers who want to expand the scale of their operations) who would actively farm the land.
In the interests of ensuring national food security and preserving the production environment, starting in March of 2012 the COA began holding a series of more than ten conferences—involving industry, government, and academia—to discuss these issues. We also engaged in repeated communication and coordination with municipal, city, and county governments to comprehensively reassess questions related to fallow farmland, the aging of the farming population, and the production situation. Participants in these discussions analyzed numerous concrete problems, including (a) what kinds of adjustments, if any, should be made to incentives related to fallow land, (b) how farmland and water resources are being used and could be used, (c) what can be done to encourage cultivation of import substitution crops, (d) what can be done to restructure the agricultural labor force, and (e) steps to enlarge the scale of operations of individual farmers.
The result was the adoption of the “plan for adjustment of the cultivation system and revitalization of farmland,” scheduled to go into effect in 2013. Under this program, a farmer can leave his land fallow for one growing season per year, but will be encouraged to restore production in the other growing season. The plan also particularly promotes cultivation of (i) import-substitution crops, (ii) crops that have strong potential for export, (iii) organic crops, and (iv) special or unique local products. Under the plan the government provides subsidies of NT$15,000 to NT$45,000 per hectare per season depending upon the type of crop. When this is added to the revenue from the sale of the harvested crops, the income of farmers should exceed the subsidies for leaving the land fallow. These measures will encourage farmers who have left their land fallow to bring it back under cultivation to at least one growing season per year, or to rent it out to someone who will cultivate it.
When one also takes into consideration the continuation of the guidance measure of the “Small Landlords, Big Tenant Farmers” program, the new fallow land policies will contribute to making it easier for Big Tenant Farmers to rent additional land. They will likewise make it easier for new farmers to find land to rent. Landowners who are no longer physically able to farm, or who have given up farming, merely need to list their rental land with a “land bank,” and they can rent it to a young professional farmer or Big Tenant Farmer with a structured organization.
Through the integration of various policy resources, the COA is also able to assist young people who want to go into the farming profession. We are actively helping young people to get involved in farm operations, and, based on their particular farming needs or operational development, we have set up a comprehensive guidance system, which includes: (a) professional training through the Farmers Academy; (b) on-site visits by new farmers to working farms; (c) pro-active help in finding farmland; (d) assistance in applying for special loans for young farmers just starting out in business; (e) establishment of local consulting and guidance teams to help with production and marketing; and (f) assistance in founding special organizations for youth farmers. Through these measures we can help young farmers deal with problems they are likely to face in the early stages of their career development, so that more young people will choose to enter agriculture and enjoy stable incomes.