South Korea: Pleas Against Cattle Killing in Foot-and-Mouth Outbreak

A farm boy's online posting about how he and his family watched all their cattle being slaughtered, has inspired even more public outrage against a decision by the South Korean government to cull pigs and cows at risk of contracting foot-and-mouth disease as a preventive measure. Since April 2010, South Korea has experienced its worst outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, a highly contagious and sometimes fatal viral disease in animals. 

Humans are only rarely affected, but the virus has spread at an alarming rate in cattle in every region of South Korea as the weather has turned colder (the virus loses strength in warmer weather). To slow down the outbreak, the South Korean government decided to cull not only the affected cattle but also healthy cattle within the danger zones. More than 470 thousand livestock have been culled so far. It is a catastrophe for the farm industry, and at least one devastated farmer is believed to have committed suicide after his cattle were put down. 

Pig culling

Pig culling, photo by Kyungin Ilbo on CARE website. Used with permission

The public has criticized the government for failing to provide enough foot-and-mouth vaccines in time to prevent this partly man-made disaster. 

Yoo Dong-il, whose father owns a cow farm, wrote a detailed journal-style posting [ko] on Daum’s Agora, one of the most-visited public discussion forums. The Yoo family owned 121 livestock, all healthy. They were culled with the family watching, bringing a 13-year old family business to near-collapse. According to Yoo, the compensation offered by the government for their loss is nowhere near sufficient – neither financially nor emotionally. The day of culling is an excruciatingly painful memory to this youngster. Near a thousand comments were added to Yoo's post and several local media reported on the boy's case.  

12월19일 밤 11시: 파주시 축산계장이 전화로 예방차원 살처분 대상이라고 함. 

12월20일 오후: 살처분을 위해 저의 집 농장 한 가운데 파서 매립하겠다고 함. 지하수 오염과 121마리를 매장한 곳에서 편히 살 수 없다는 저의 어머니 눈물에 매립지 확보를 위해 하루 연기. 

Dec. 19. 11:00 PM:The head of the Livestock division of Paju city called us and announced that our farm had been earmarked for preventive culling.
Dec 20. Afternoon: The city official told us that they will dig (a hole) in the middle of our farm to bury the livestock. My mom argued with tears that we cannot live in a place where 121 of our livestock are buried beneath us, and she is also worried about possible underground water contamination. Responding to my mom's points, the official decided to postpone the culling for a day, so they can look for another burial location.

오후 3시: 살처분을 위해 방역담당 여자 한 분과 남자 한 분 농장 도착. 저와 제 동생 그리고 부모님의 항의, 눈물, 사정,,,으로 억울함을 표현

오후 5시: 파주시 관계자 방문. 저의 부모님에게 무릎을 꿇고 예방 살처분에 협조 부탁합니다 (죄송하다고,,, 무릎꿇고 사정,, 저의 어머니와 같이 울어주셔서 감사합니다)

오후6시: 저랑 아버지, 동생이 마지막 가는 소들을 위해 고급사료를 주었습니다 방역담당자,,, 안락사를 위해 주사기에 독약 주입 여자 방역담당자는 삼십 대 주부,,, 살처분 때문에 3일째 밤샘. 주사기 개수 확인할 때 저 앞에서 구토를 합니다…. 1주일째 소화가 안된다면서,,

오후7시: 121마리를 거세 수소부터 차례로 안락사 시킵니다. 큰 놈은 2분 만에…암소는 1분…송아지는, 3일전에 갓난 송아지가 4마리가 있었습니다. 여자 방역담당자 갓난 송아지들의 독약 주사기 들고는,,, ‘제가 직업을 잘못 선택한 것 같네요’ 울면서 찔렀습니다. 그리고 다시 한번 구토를 합니다.

밤 12시: 마지막 송아지가 죽는걸 확인하였습니다. 

Dec 21. 3:00 PM: One man and one woman from the city’s quarantine team arrived at our farm for culling work. My parents and my younger siblings protested, cried and begged to express our feelings to this unfair situation.

5:00 PM:A Paju city official visited us. In front of my parents, he fell on his knees and requested for them to cooperative with [the city's decision on] preventive culling (He said sorry and begged them (still) on his knees. Thanks for crying with my mother, dear official).

6:00 PM: My dad, my younger siblings and I fed our cattle who we will be seeing for the very last time with high quality animal feed. The female quarantine official took needles and injected poison into them. She was a married woman in her thirties. She stayed up three nights straight for this culling work. She threw up in front of me while counting the needles, saying that she has not been able to digest for a week.

7:00 PM: They euthanized 121 cattle one by one, starting with an ox. It took two minutes to kill a big one, and one minute for a cow. There were four calves who had been born three days earlier. She held a needle close to the newborn calves and said ‘I have chosen the wrong job,’ and while sobbing, she injected it. And then again, she puked.

12:00 AM: I watched our last calf dying.

According to CARE(Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth), a South Korean animal rights group, the practice of burying animals alive, which is considered one of the most inhumane ways to cull animals, is being performed in many places, even though it is not recommended by the government. CARE filed an online petition [ko] and held a demonstration on December 28 to protest against the inhumane culling method, urging the government to provide more vaccines for pigs. Currently, only a limited number of cows are vaccinated. 

Blogger Siemphre revealed the futility of preventive culling, claiming that during the previous 2000-2002 foot-and-mouth outbreak, among the 210,000 livestock culled, only 64 cattle were discovered to have been affected. The blogger added that disease control is all about politics. 

우리나라에서는 구제역 양성 판정을 받은 지역 가축뿐 아니라, 그 지역 반경 5 km 내의 가축들도 처분하고 있습니다. 구제역 확진 판정을 받은 농장의 가축만을 살처분하는 일본, 살처분 정책과 구제역 백신 접종을 겸하는 유럽에 비할 때 과격한 조치라고 볼 수 있는데요[…] 치료제는 없다는 구제역, 예방 백신은 있으나 그나마도 우리나라에서는 사용하지 못하는 현실이라고 합니다. 구제역 백신을 접종하게 되면 청정국 지위를 얻는데 6개월 이상 시간이 더 결려 육류 수출에 차질이 생기고, 백신 접종 개체들을 사후 관리하는 시간과 비용의 문제 때문입니다. […]예방 백신 접종이 힘든 농림부의 곤란한 상황은 알겠지만 대량 살처분이 어쩔 수 없는 상황이라면 그래도 비인간적인 ‘생매장’만큼은 지양해서 다시 이슈화되지 않았으면 하는 바램이네요. 

In Korea, not only the affected cattle, but the cattle within 5 kilometer radius of the outbreak point are culled. Compared with Japan, which kills only the affected livestock and farms, and with European cases, where two measures of diseases control (culling and injecting vaccines) are both applied, the Korean measure is extreme. […] Actually, there is no real cure for foot-and-mouth disease, only the vaccine. But still, our hands are tied. Once a country applies the vaccine, it takes more than six months to regain the disease-free status, and this affects meat exports. Moreover, it takes extra money and time to manage the inoculated cattle […] I fully understand the quandary the Ministry of Agriculture is in. If the culling is inevitable, I hope they drop the inhumane ‘burying alive’ method, so the public would never have to bring this issue up again. 
Pig culling

Pig culling, photo by Kyungin Ilbo on CARE. Used with permission

Net user ID:그래도 (‘But’ in Korean) reflected a majority of public opinion in a comment on the aforementioned article by Siemphre, by saying that although it is painful to watch animals be killed, we are all selfish human beings who are capable of taking harsh measures for our own benefit: 

우리나라 구제역 대응은 세계적인 수준임은 인정해야죠. 옆 나라 일본만 봐도 살처분도 잘 안 할 뿐더러 구제역 발생시 피해가 어머어마 하죠.[…]물론 돼지도 하나의 생명임을 생각하면 가슴 아픈 일이지만, 이 때문에 우리 가정의 식탁엔 바른 먹거리가 올라오게 된다는 것도 무시할 수 없는 현실이죠….뭐 저런 행동들이 비판받을 행동은 아니라고 봅니다. 

Our counter-measures against the foot-and-mouth outbreak are among the harshest in the world. When the livestock is left un-culled, such as in Japan’s case, the damage can grow astronomically […] Of course it is heart-breaking to see pigs, living beings [get killed]. Still, it is hard to deny that people want to eat safe food… I don’t think this measure deserved criticism.

Cold weather is expected to continue throughout the next week, chilling hearts of South Korean farmers.

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