In S Korea, Cattle Culling Sparks Farming Catastrophe

BY LEE YOO EUN
Jan 06, 2011

Government criticised for extreme measures that leave farming families devastated and jobless.

A farm boy's online posting about how he and his family watched all their cattle be killed, 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 470,000 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.

 

313 Compared with Japan, which kills only the affected livestock and farms, the Korean measure is extreme. (Photo by Kyungin Ilbo on CARE)

 

The public has criticised 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.

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 would 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.

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 cooperate 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, which 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 30s. She stayed up three nights straight for this culling work. She threw up in front of me while counting the needles, saying she had not been able to eat for a week.

7:00 PM: They euthanised 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 that 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 to 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.

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.

 

314 Pig culling (Photo by Kyungin Ilbo on CARE)