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Korea culls 1.3m livestock to combat FMD epidemic

Korea has ordered the culling of 1.34 million livestock since late November to stem its severest foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in history, the government said Monday.

The Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said quarantine officials ordered the culling of 107,500 heads of cattle, just under 1.23 million pigs and over 3,700 goats and deer on 3,300 farms in the past 40 days.

The exact cost of losses cannot be calculated properly, but compensation to farmers, the cost of vaccinations and other expenses may run past the 1.3 trillion won mark, although numbers can go up if the outbreaks do not come under control soon, the ministry said.

Besides the culling and burial of animals, the government started vaccinating animals on Dec. 25, with 2.15 million livestock in six provinces and two major cities getting shots. All cattle and breeding sows in the central Gyeonggi, Chungcheong and Gangwon provinces as well as those in the city of Incheon, west of Seoul, are being vaccinated.

Sources said losses will require the use of the government’s emergency budget since existing reserves and farm-related public funds accumulated in the past are insufficient to deal with the extent of the damage.

“Because farms that have been hit will have to re-stock on animals afterwards, the latest FMD outbreak may disrupt the local livestock sector for up to two years,” an insider said.

Before the first FMD case was confirmed on Nov. 29, the country had 3.4 million heads of cattle, 9.4 million pigs and a considerable number of other livestock.

The ministry, meanwhile, said it found four more outbreaks earlier in the day, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 112, along with several other cases that are not officially tallied because the animals were culled as a precautionary measure before test results were checked.

The ministry also confirmed the first bird flu outbreak in the Gyeonggi region near Seoul, raising concerns that the highly contagious disease is spreading across the country.

A duck farm in Anseong, 77 kilometers south of Seoul, tested positive for the virulent strain of the H5N1 avian influenza after birds started dying off over the weekend, the ministry said.

The case is the first to be reported in the province surrounding the capital city in nearly three years. Avian influenza is an airborne disease that can be transmitted to humans, although there has never been a case of a Korean getting sick.

Authorities said the Anseong outbreak is the ninth confirmed in the country this winter after the first bird flu cases were confirmed by quarantine authorities on Dec. 31.

The initial outbreaks were all centered in the Jeolla region in the southwestern part of the country and South Chungcheong in the central western region.

“All 32,000 ducks on the (Anseong) farm have already been ordered destroyed on Sunday as a precautionary measure, with 55,000 other birds within a 500-meter radius to be culled,” an official said.

He said other birds within a 10-kilometer area of the poultry farm will be barred from being sold on the market or moved, while front-line inspectors will carefully monitor birds for sharp hikes in sudden deaths and drops in egg production.

The ministry, meanwhile, said the latest confirmation brings the number of birds culled at infected farms alone to over 194,600, with many more being destroyed to prevent the spread of the bird flu. 

(Yonhap News)
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