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Korea battles renewed AI, foot-and-mouth

Korea confirmed three new cases of bird flu on Sunday as the outbreak that began last month further hits farmers who are also battling the nation’s worst-ever outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

The Agriculture Ministry confirmed three new cases of the highly contagious virus at duck farms in the southwestern county of Yeongam, bringing the total number of cases to seven since Dec. 31.

At least 396,000 chickens, ducks and other birds have been or will be culled, the agriculture ministry said on its website, as the fresh cases were reported after a week-long pause.

Health authorities have placed quarantine zones around nearby areas to carry out emergency disinfection on people and vehicles, especially those transporting animal feed.

Korea has been hit by avian influenza three times, with the last outbreak in April 2008.

The renewed bird flu scare came as farmers and health authorities struggle to curtail the country’s worst-ever outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, which shows few signs of abating.

Seoul on Sunday confirmed two new cases of the disease at a pig farm in the southeastern county of Bongwha and a cattle farm at the midwestern county of Cheongwon.
Vegetarians stage a street performance to promote the vegetarian diet in Seoul on Sunday after Korean health authorities have culled more than 1 million animals to contain foot-and-mouth outbreaks. (Yonhap News)
Vegetarians stage a street performance to promote the vegetarian diet in Seoul on Sunday after Korean health authorities have culled more than 1 million animals to contain foot-and-mouth outbreaks. (Yonhap News)

A total of 108 cases have been confirmed since the first outbreak on Nov. 29, leading to the record slaughter of at least 948,000 cattle and pigs in 40 cities and counties.

Since November, Korea has lost about seven percent of its cattle and pigs, with related losses estimated at more than 1 trillion won ($890 million).

More than 68,000 troops have been deployed to help culling efforts, with President Lee Myung-bak on Thursday calling for “fundamental measures” to contain the disease, such as securing more vaccine. 

In a desperate attempt to contain the spread of foot-and-mouth, the government has vaccinated 1.5 million cattle and pigs ― risking a longer export ban by overseas buyers.

It takes longer for a country that uses vaccinations to regain disease-free status from the World Organization for Animal Health than when the disease is curbed solely by culling.

The ministry said Saturday that an additional 1.2 million pigs and cattle across the country will be vaccinated in the coming weeks, while it tries to secure vaccines for 6.5 million animals by the end of this month.

Foot-and-mouth disease affects cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, pigs, deer, goats and sheep.

Previous outbreaks in January and April last year cost more than 250 billion won, with nearly 50,000 animals slaughtered. (AFP)
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