The Korea Times sent an investigative team last weekend to Goyang, north of Seoul, to take a first-hand look at the devastation wreaked by foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) that has spread across the nation except for the southwest. This is an account of the trip. ― ED.
A “No trespassing” sign is posted on an electricity pole at the entrance road of a ranch in Jungsan-dong, Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, Friday, where 53 cattle were recently culled due to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
/ Korea Times photo by Kim Jae-won
By Kim Jae-won
GOYANG, Gyeonggi Province — If there are places where silence speaks louder than words, this should be one of them.
Not a soul could be seen in any direction as far as the eye could see, making for an eerie still painting of a winter landscape in a rural area.
The scene was only interrupted by the sound of a lonesome bulldozer that was moving away with its destination hard to tell.
A nearby shed, where 53 head of cattle were raised, according to villagers this reporter later encountered, was now empty. It was not hard to figure out that the cattle had been culled and buried close by.
If there was any doubt of their fate, a sign dispelled it.
The notice on an electricity pole says, “Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) Affected Area” on the upper half with “No Trespassing” on the lower half.
So far, the fight against FMD is showing no signs of a breakthrough.
About 3 million livestock, mainly pigs and cattle, have been destroyed since the first case was confirmed in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province. The tragedy is being aggravated by the recurrence of avian influenza that is decimating flocks of chickens and ducks.
Cattle, pigs, chickens and ducks are being culled by the thousands; and watching the animals destroyed is taking a mental toll on farmers, officials and workers engaged in the process. Financially, the farmers won’t be as devastated as first believed, because they will receive compensation up to the going price of every animal killed, according to the government.
A civil servant from a taskforce based at the Jungsan-dong Community Center in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, said it was a horrible experience.
“Many of our officials have difficulty in carrying out their work due to bad memories from the quarantine efforts,” he said asking for his name not be used.
The team coordinates the regional efforts against FMD. .
“Those engaged in pig culling suffer the most,” the official said, adding that it doesn’t mean cattle farmers are suffering less.
Pigs were often buried live, he recalls. By and large, they follow instructions to give the pigs lethal injections before they are buried. But, in the cold weather, drugs froze and couldn’t be used. “They did what they had to,” he said.
A farmer, surnamed Jeong, whose 53 cattle were destroyed in December, said he was still in a state of shock.
“I still have recurring nightmares,” he said. “They were like my children.”
However, he wants to restart. “The government has given me part of the full compensation of 4 million won per head,” he said.
Mental counseling is also being provided for farmers, officials and workers.
“We provide counseling services for all those involved. About 10 percent of them are so severely traumatized they require professional psychiatric help,” said Moon Seung-cheon, a counselor dispatched from the Goyang Community Mental Health Center.
“Farmers worry most about their future. They wonder whether they will be fully compensated, and what they will do next,” Moon said.
Another official said, “It is very important to pay the farmers as soon as possible and give them the full amount. They need the cash right now,” he said.
He said the emergency team has completed the first stage of vaccinations for all the animals in the area, adding that it would start the second round of injections Friday. The next two weeks will be critical to see whether the outbreak will be halted or spread further.
“If there is no additional outbreak in the next two weeks, we can say that the vaccination has worked, and FMD is gone. It is a very important time,” the official added.