A Christmas Culling: Foot and Mouth Disease Spreads in South Korea

A Christmas Culling: Foot and Mouth Disease Spreads in South Korea

Cows receiving Christmas vaccinations for foot-and-mouth disease. Hundreds of thousands of pigs and cows have already been culled.

The highly contagious and viral foot- and-mouth disease (FMD) has recently been identified in South Korea. The AFP reports:

South Korea Monday confirmed three new cases of foot-and-mouth disease, bringing the total to 56 since the country’s worst outbreak began a month ago.
The agriculture ministry said the new cases were on cattle and pig farms in Yangpyeong county, 55 kilometres (34 miles) east of Seoul, the western port city of Incheon and the southeastern county of Cheongsong.

One report from the Korea JoongAng Daily states that “disinfectants have been freezing in the recent cold spell and can’t be sprayed to help prevent the spread of FMD.”

The government has ordered a culling of all the animals on the affected farms and those within a certain radius from those farms. About 400,000 animals have been killed and buried so far. (After a major FMD outbreak in South Korea in 2002, 160,000 animals were killed.)

On Christmas day, a staff of 800, comprised of 200 teams, initiated a vaccination program to further control this epidemic:

“Health authorities plan to send out 200 teams … to carry out a first round of foot-and-mouth vaccinations on some 133 thousand cattle at 7,016 farms in North Gyeongsang Province’s Andong and Yecheon and Gyeonggi Province’s Paju, Goyang, and Yeoncheon.”

It appears this first round of vaccinations was limited to cows only, not pigs. However, the Sangol Farm, a large pig breeding facility, has tested positive with the disease, which could impact farms across the country. The Hankyoreh reports:

“The first investigation by health authorities confirmed that piglets had been supplied to 21 farms nationwide. Of these, four farms located in Dangjin, Icheon, Pyeongtaek, and Goesan were reported to have a relatively clear epidemiological relationship. Dangjin is nearby the domestic swine industry mecca of Hongseong, while Icheon contains a cluster of large-scale farms, including one for Dodram Livestock, the country’s largest swine company. Pyeongtaek contains numerous large-scale dairy farms, while Goesan has 65 farms where approximately 75 thousand pigs are being raised.”

The links between the intensive rearing of animals in factory farms and the emergence of epidemics has become increasingly clear over the past decade with outbreaks of avian flu, swine flu, Mad Cow disease and foot-and-mouth disease. As Vandana Shiva once said, “New diseases in animals are emerging and more virulent forms of old diseases are increasing. Epidemics are an intrinsic part of factory farming and industrial agriculture.” And with globalization, an outbreak in one area rarely remains a localized concern.

I am reminded of another Christmas culling, back in 2003, when the first case of Bovine spongiform encephalopathy was discovered in the U.S., and hundreds of cows were “depopulated.” George W. Bush, tried to reassure consumers when he said, “I like to eat beef and will continue eating beef because I believe the food supply is safe.”

South Korea, at the time, was more wary, and they placed on ban on imports of U.S. beef that lasted until 2008. Even now, there are still restrictions and public health concerns regarding importing American beef.

Interestingly Chung Woon-chun, who is currently heading South Korea’s Grand National Party’s (GNP) special committee for counteracting FMD was quoted in the Korea JoongAng Daily as saying the following:

“The GNP will come up with measures to effectively contain the disease…And it will also encourage the public’s consumption of beef and pork because an outbreak of FMD doesn’t affect food safety.”

But culling and vaccinating do not address the root of the problem. As long as there is a growing appetite for meat and the systems of production that maximize profit at the expense of the animals, public health and the environment, another epidemic is bound to resurface. The hazards of factory farming can’t be buried along with these hundreds of thousands of animals.