A group of pigs, taken from a farm infected from the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, stand before a hole prior to being buried alive in this photo taken on Jan. 6 in Dongducheon, Gyeonggi Province. / Yonhap
By Kim Rahn
For more than two weeks in late December, Lee Won-bak, president of the Korea Association for Animal Protection (KAAP), suffered from auditory hallucinations of ear-splitting squealing from the pigs that were being buried alive.
He still shudders recalling the horrible scenes he witnessed — where countless pigs were dumped alive into vinyl-covered pits at remote hills or fields, after falling victim to the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).
“The deafening squealing sound, mother pigs struggling to protect their piglets in the holes — it’s so horrible, nightmarish.” Lee said.
Lee said he witnessed the burials of pigs alive five times since the first breakout of the deadly disease in Nov. 29.
Most animal rights groups claim that more than 90 percent of the pigs have been buried alive.
Park So-youn, chief of an animal’s rights group Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth, also recalled how the burial of pigs was like hell.
“I’ve seen many culling scenes since 2006 when bird flu or FMD broke out. Every time the slaughter was terrible. But this time, the scene was just unbelievable. It was nothing but a hell, which we can’t see even in the movies,” Park said.
Civil servants from the central and local governments have slaughtered about 1.5 million pigs and cows so far, according to the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
The authorities are burying the animals, mostly pigs, alive — violating domestic and international laws on animal slaughter.
“For cows, they give an animal euthanasia injected solution, but pigs, not at all. Almost all pigs are buried alive. I confirmed the fact with officials and workers engaged in the quarantine operations,” Park said.
Breach of regulations
According to the domestic law on animal epidemics and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) Guideline on the Killing of Animals for Disease Control Purposes, animals must be killed before burial. Korea is a member of OIE.
However, the regulation is useless, as the disease spreads so quickly and outpaces the authorities’ culling capacity.
“They claim they are short of the euthanasia solution, saying pigs need larger doses of the drug than cows because of their thick subcutaneous fat. They also say they don’t have time to give injections to each pig as they have to slaughter hundreds of pigs a day,” Park said.
More than 1.3 million pigs have been culled.
But members of animal rights groups refute the government’s arguments.
“The excavator pushes two to three pigs into a pit at a time. As the pigs usually try to escape, the slowly-moving excavator needs to repeat the pushing three or four times. Injecting the drug may take much shorter time than the pushing operation.”
The ministry, in charge of the animal disease control, said such live burial of pigs takes place “only in some regions.”
“According to the law, we instruct quarantine workers to kill animals in proper ways, including using poisonous gas and drugs, before burying them. Workers in some regions say the euthanasia solution is not effective on pigs or they are short of the drug. We’ll increase the supply of the injected drug in such regions,” a ministry official said, declining to be named.
Lack of will
However, animals rights groups think differently.
“We’ve demanded the government to stop the live burial of animals since 2000 when FMD first broke out here. But it has been totally ignored. The biggest problem is that the government has no will whatsoever to correct that,” Lee of KAAP said.
They also raise concerns over the use of succinyl choline for euthanasia, saying the drug is not suitable for mercy killing.
“The authorities inject succinyl choline into cows, but it only paralyzes their muscles. To constitute euthanasia, animals must lose consciousness so that they will not feel pain: in terms of this, succinyl choline cannot be used as an euthanasia solution,” Jeon Jin-gyeong, head of the Korea Animal Rights Advocates (KARA), said.
In a discussion on the disease, Wednesday, KARA called on the government to import more effective and proper euthanasia drugs not to “commit the crime of live burials.”
“The law stipulates epidemic-infected animals should be buried after their pain is minimized. But the authorities do not keep this law and there are no punitive measures against the breach,” Jeon said.
The ministry official said the authorities also propose other means of killing, such as poisonous gas and electric shock.
International animal rights groups also denounce the culling method. The United Kingdom-based Compassion in World Farming criticized the Korean government for breaching the OIE rule.
“Compassion’s Chief Executive, Philip Lymbery, and other animal welfare organizations have written to the Korean Embassy in London asking for an immediate end to any live burials that may be taking place,” the group said in a statement. “If emergency killing is genuinely needed for disease control purposes, Compassion believes the authorities must ensure that it is done in strict accordance with the international animal welfare guidelines of the OIE.”
Animal rights activists say that the government should draw up a bill to lay legal grounds to punish those who violate the regulations banning the live burial of animals.
“There are laws banning the live burial, but we have no laws under which those who violate the rules can be punished,” Lee of KAAP said. “We will be cursed by the contamination of the environment in the end, if we continue to bury animals alive.”
An alliance of 10 civic and religious groups here also called for the halt of live burials, Monday, calling it “illegal and inhumane cruelty to animals.”
The alliance said the government should also stop “preventive” culling of cows and pigs, which do not have the disease yet but are killed because they are in the vicinity of infected animals.
“The preventive slaughter is ineffective. It is more effective to kill infected animals and vaccinate others in the vicinity,” the alliance said in a statement.
‘돼지 울음소리 들려요’ 생매장 스트레스
한국동물보호협회장 이원박씨는 지난 12월말 2주 이상 살처분된 돼지의 귀를 찢는 울음소리 환청에 시달렸다.
그는 그가 목격한 수많은 돼지들이 구제역에 걸린 후 외딴 산이나 들에 비닐로 덮힌 구덩이에 산채로 버려질 때의 끔찍한 모습을 떠올리면서 아직도 몸서리친다.
“귀청이 터질듯한 울음소리, 구덩이에서 엄마돼지가 새끼돼지를 보호하려는 모습 등은 끔찍하고 악몽과 같은 것들이었다”고 이회장은 말했다.
이회장은 지난 11월 29일 첫 구제역 발생 이후 모두 5차례 돼지가 생매장되는 것을 목격했다고 밝혔다.
대다수의 동물보호단체는 살처분돤 돼지 중 90퍼센트 이상이 생매장되었다고 주장했다.