By Kim Rahn
The deadly foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and avian influenza are wreaking havoc on the nation’s livestock and poultry industries, spreading relentlessly in key regions the nation heavily relies on for beef and chicken.
Cows at a farm in Sangju, North Gyeongsang Province, the nation’s second largest beef producing area, tested positive for the highly contagious FMD, the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said Sunday.
Adding to the woes, poultry farms in Paju and Yangju in Gyeonggi Province newly tested positive for the virulent strain of H1N1 influenza. Pocheon, another city in the province where about 8 percent of chickens in the nation are raised, has been put on high alert.
The FMD infection in Sangju has come even after the quarantine authorities vaccinated animals there. Sangju, where 64,000 cows are raised, is only behind Gyeongju with 77,000 cows in beef production. With the high quality of meat, Sangju beef was used for the main dish at the G20 Seoul Summit dinner last November.
This is the first time for the disease to break out in the region — Sangju has been FMD-free since the first outbreak in Andong in the same province, and Agriculture Minister Yoo Jeong-bok recently praised the region’s epidemic prevention system.
But the system eventually failed. Those engaged in the livestock industry are concerned that it may deal a serious blow to the industry, which was already hit hard after FMD spread to Hoengseong in Gangwon Province, another region famous for producing high-quality beef, last week.
Besides Sangju, animals in five regions were confirmed to be infected Saturday alone, including Goseong in Gangwon Province which had been FMD-free. Most of the affected animals had been vaccinated.
“As vaccinated animals have an antibody formed in about two weeks, we hope the rampancy will die down around the end of this month,” a ministry official said.
However, as vaccines are for prevention and not a cure, concerns are that vaccination may fail if the virus has already spread across the country.
The Korea Customs Service said Sunday that it will tighten inspection on people and freight coming from FMD-affected countries. A revised customs declaration will oblige those who visited a livestock farm in a foreign country to report it to the authorities.
Livestock farmers are worried that family gatherings and the nationwide exodus during Seollal, or Lunar New Year holiday, may further spread the virus. Geochang County in South Gyeongsang Province and Damyang County in South Jeolla Province urged Cheong Wa Dae and the Ministry of Public Administration and Security to make a public announcement dissuading people from visiting their hometowns.
Farmers on Jeju Island placed an ad in local newspapers Friday urging residents to discourage their relatives on the mainland from coming to the island.