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An Alternative to "Preventative Culling" Must Be Found in the Fight Against FMD
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President Lee Myung-bak listens to an explanation about FMD prevention measures from an on-site personnel during his visit to FMD prevention guard- post in Galpoongri, Hoingseong, Gangwondo, on Sunday, Jan 16. Photo by Lee Sang-hoon



Today is the 50th day that has passed since the first case of suspected foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) was reported, in Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do. Since then, the FMD has spread like wildfire.

More than 1.61 million cows and pigs, one tenth of South Korea's total livestock population have been slaughtered. The cost of compensation and preventative methods has soared beyond one trillion won and reached almost twice the total cost of the four previous outbreaks of FMD that began in 2000.

In the Gimpo area, at least 70% of all livestock has now been buried in the ground, prompting fears that the very foundations of the livestock industry may be undermined.

More serious still is the fact that nobody knows how long this situation will continue. Some have predicted that things will begin to die down this week, but this is only wishful thinking. FMD broke out again at the weekend in several areas that had previously been cited as clean, including Jecheon in Chungcheongbuk-do.

The FMD continues, with no sign of an announcement of its cessation. The public health authorities are probably too busy to issue one. Nonetheless, we want to suggest the need for introspection regarding what has already happened and on the future, especially in light of the national crisis that FMD has caused.

The first issue we will raise is that of whether the current culls are absolutely necessary. The government appears to think of nothing else but culling. It seems to believe that, based on experience and on the particular characteristics of the Korean livestock industry, this is the best way of containing the disease.

In the UK in 2000, a staggering six million head of livestock were culled and incinerated. There are too many problems, however, with our method of mass culling and burial.

The first problem is the inhumanity and affront against living beings that our method entails. The media report stories of cows shedding tears just before they are put down, and a newborn litter of twelve piglets being culled, but more important is the moral argument for stopping the current haphazard and inhumane slaughter.

Many pigs, in particular, are being buried alive because of a lack of medication to put them down, or out of expediency. We must, as a matter of course, search hard for an alternative to such cruel culling and take a thorough look at the experiences of other countries.

One eye-catching alternative is that employed by Miyazaki Prefecture in Japan. In Miyazaki's case, when FMD broke out in March last year, rapid reporting and a powerful initial response with quarantine measures proved effective. 280,000 cows and pigs were culled, but the spread of FMD to other areas was prevented.

One particularly noteworthy aspect of the Miyazaki case is that quarantine measures were enforced throughout Japan. Thanks to this, Japan was able to overcome FMD even without resorting to preventative culling.

In Korea, preventative culling is made mandatory by the law for prevention of infectious livestock diseases, but they say this has not yet been made law in Japan. This is the reason why the mechanical repetition of culling as a consequence of inefficient quarantine measures must be reconsidered.

The cessation of culling cannot be advocated at the current time, when FMD is still in full swing. But we are justified in asking this much: until when must the Korean people sit by and watch such horrible scenes unfolding?

Next time, after this FMD crisis has come to an end, surely what we need are measures taken by various branches of government in unison. This is also a question of national dignity. (Ed. Jan 17, 2011)

Copyright The Kyunghyang Shinmun. All rights reserved. Reproduction and redistribution without permission absolutely prohibited.

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