Prevention is the best policyCattle farmers are in distress over the rapid spread of foot-and-mouth disease, which first appeared in North Gyeongsang last month and has now reached Paju, Gyeonggi.
Health officials in Gangwon, South Jeolla and North and South Chungcheong have rolled up their sleeves to curb the spread of the disease.
To make matters worse, bitterly cold temperatures have frozen medical equipment, disinfectants are running out and there is a lack of manpower to support quarantine activities. If the authorities fail in their efforts, the situation could soon turn into a national disaster.
FMD has severely damaged our livestock farmers this year. Due to its rapid spread, a total of 233,724 cows and pigs have been slaughtered across the country, far exceeding the 160,155 heads of cattle culled in 2002. And it is still difficult to predict how many more will be killed.
But using vaccines to protect the cattle is unrealistic because there are a large number of animals involved.
A bigger problem is that it will take 18 months for Korea to be recognized as an FMD danger-free country once the current outbreak is over. During this period, exports of cattle will be strictly prohibited. There are more than 3 million cows and bulls and almost 10 million pigs in the country. The amount of livestock that has been slaughtered is still less than 2 percent of the total livestock population, but nobody knows what might happen if we don’t stop the disease’s spread.
The United Kingdom is a representative case. The dairy industry there almost collapsed after the country was classified as a high-risk FMD country this year despite slaughtering 6 million heads of cattle in 2001.
There is no other choice but to halt the spread of the disease using thorough preventive measures. Although health authorities have already lost our trust, they should make further efforts. As shown already, one farmer’s careless act can end up wreaking havoc on the entire farm industry.
Citizens should be on high alert when they travel to Southeast Asia - where FMD is still rampant - for holiday trips. In addition, they must pay close attention to sanitization procedures when they bring in foreign meat.
Building an effective system to avert animal diseases is important. But every citizen must be ready to take preventive measures because that’s the best policy to get back our image as an FMD-free country as soon as possible.