Outbreak takes toll on meat sales

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Outbreak takes toll on meat sales

The recent spate of foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks in Korea is putting the pinch on local livestock farmers and butchers amid large-scale moves to slaughter animals and declining demand as skittish consumers avoid pork and beef.

Korea’s Agriculture Ministry yesterday confirmed the ninth case of the disease at a pig farm on Ganghwa Island, the epicenter of the latest outbreak. The island is home to seven confirmed cases so far this month.

“Our test on two pigs from the farm turned out to be positive after the farm reported the case on Tuesday afternoon,” the ministry said. As a result, 18 cows and 1,100 hogs at the farm will be culled to prevent the spread of the disease, pushing the total number of the area’s livestock slaughtered during the latest outbreak to 31,154.

All slaughterhouses in areas that reported outbreaks have been shut down, which will lead to a significant amount of lost revenue and extra expenses for those affected.

But even livestock farmers who haven’t experienced an outbreak have felt the pain.

A dip in demand for red meat, fueled by reports of the outbreaks, is outpacing the shrinking supply of cows and hogs, pushing down prices.

The average auction price of a 110-kilogram (243-pound) hog at slaughterhouses in North Chungcheong stood at 316,000 won ($282.38) on Monday, down 17,000 won - or 5.1 percent - from 10 days earlier, according to the regional units of the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation, or Nonghyup, which is one of the biggest meat producers in the region.

The price of a 600-kilogram bull was 6.02 million won, down 220,000 won, or 3.5 percent, during the same period.

The Agriculture Ministry said there is no foot-and-mouth disease risk to consumers.

Beef sales at the E-Mart discount store in Cheongju, North Chung-cheong, between Friday and Sunday declined by 4.2 percent from two weeks earlier, while pork prices fell by 5.1 percent.

“The price seems to have been affected by foot-and-mouth disease,” said Park Jong-ha, livestock economy director at Nonghyup’s North Chung-cheong unit.

“But consumer awareness about the disease has improved over the years, so I don’t think the price swing will be too dramatic.”

Still, some smaller meat retailers are reeling. Ahn Chang-ho, a butcher in Yongin City, Gyeonggi, said he is taking a huge hit.

“My daily meat sales were about 700,000 won before the whole outbreak began,” said the 53-year-old. “Now I can barely gross 300,000 won a day.”

When the worst foot-and-mouth outbreak took place in 2002, more than 160,000 livestock were culled, costing the government 53.1 billion won to compensate affected farms. The total financial damage due to the outbreak was estimated at 140 billion won.

By Jung Ha-won, Shin Jin-ho [hawon@joongang.co.kr]
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