By Na Jeong-ju
The government said Thursday that up to one million animals have been culled so far and one million more could be destroyed in several days as the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) spreads rapidly throughout the country.
President Lee Myung-bak convened an emergency Cabinet meeting at Cheong Wa Dae to discuss the situation, and instructed ministers to come up with “fundamental” measures to strengthen monitoring of the disease and reduce damage, presidential spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung said.
The meeting came amid criticism that the government failed to take appropriate measures right after the first case of the highly contagious FMD was confirmed on Nov. 29.
Since the outbreak was reported in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province, the animal disease has spread rapidly, reaching neighboring areas of Seoul.
More than 948,000 cows and pigs have so far been culled, and the vaccination of hundreds of thousands of animals is underway in some of the worst-hit areas, according to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
“More animals will be destroyed,” an official said. “The number of animals to be culled may reach one million.”
The farm ministry said it detected three additional cases of FMD in the Chungcheong provinces in the central part of the country and one in Gyeonnggi Province near Seoul, despite extensive quarantine measures and the use of vaccines on cattle to stem further outbreaks.
It said that 55,731 pigs and 10 cattle have been destroyed within a 500 meter radius of the farms as a precautionary measure.
The latest outbreaks have pushed up the number of animals to be destroyed to record high levels, with financial losses estimated to exceed the 1 trillion won mark ($888 million).
The ministry said that it decided to expand vaccinations as FMD has spread from cattle to other animals. It said up to 210,000 pigs will be inoculated in the coming days.
The Ministry of National Defense said nearly 70,000 troops have been mobilized to help the government’s extensive quarantine efforts.
“The military has so far mobilized some 68,000 soldiers and 770 pieces of military equipment to help stem the spread of FMD,” ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters.
The current outbreaks are the severest ever in the country’s history.
In the past, only cattle have been given shots as part of an effort to limit vaccine use, which can delay the country regaining its FMD-free status from the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health. Over 1.2 million cattle have been given shots since Dec. 25.
FMD is highly contagious and affects all cloven-hoofed animals — cattle, pigs, deer, goats and buffalos. It is classified as a “List A” disease by the OIE, although it is harmless to humans.
The country was hit by the disease in 2000, 2002 and twice early last year. Before the latest set of outbreaks, Seoul had used vaccines only once, in 2000, because it had little experience in controlling the disease.