[FOUNTAIN]Pestilence before the Cup

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[FOUNTAIN]Pestilence before the Cup

Like a rain shower that starts just before you finish painting your house, we have now seen reports of foot-and-mouth disease in hogs here, when the opening of the 2002 World Cup soccer tournament is less than a month away.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has worked hard since January to take every possible step to keep the disease at bay, saying that it is "more dangerous than terrorists." The ministry seems baffled at the sudden outbreak.

Foot-and-mouth disease is a contagious febrile disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, swine, sheep and goats. As its name suggests, the disease is characterized by an eruption of blisters occurring mainly in the mouth and on the feet.

It was Fracastoro, an Italian monk, who first recorded an outbreak of the disease that had bedeviled livestock raisers near Verona, a northern Italian city, in 1514.

In veterinary textbooks, foot-and-mouth disease is described as an "economic or political disease" because it limits trade, of not only meat and dairy foods but also of other products. An outbreak of the disease will also tighten customs and quarantine inspections. The disease is destructive and causes indirect damage to industries such as tourism.

Many Asian countries, including Korea and Japan, have experienced an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease at least once. Korea had outbreaks in 1918, 1934 and, after 66 years, in March 2000.

In China, there were two reports of the disease in the south in 1993, and China is still not considered a disease-free country by international organizations. That is why the Korean government has not ruled out the possibility that the yellow sand carried by winds from China this spring was the cause of the outbreak.

The United Kingdom has been most afflicted by foot-and-mouth disease. During the 11 months after the disease broke out in Little Warley in February 2001, more than 4 million head of cattle were slaughtered, the only known effective method to contain the disease. Losses were 4 billion pounds ($5.8 billion).

This outbreak here was detected early and the government is stepping up efforts to contain it. Korea may be able to stave off the major havoc wreaked in the United Kingdom last year.

But the fact that foot-and-mouth disease broke out is embarrassing us in the international community. I hope the government and livestock growers will join in efforts to contain the disease as quickly as possible.

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Sohn Byoung-soo

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