Foot-and-mouth vaccine spurs flap

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Foot-and-mouth vaccine spurs flap

The government and hog farmers are at odds with each other over a foot-and-mouth disease vaccination.

While the government says the vaccination is necessary to prevent another massive outbreak, farmers have argued that the vaccine is ineffective and has caused them to incur losses because of its effects on the meat.

Foot-and-mouth disease is a highly contagious virus that affects hoofed animals, primarily pigs and cattle. It can cause high fevers, blisters in the mouth and even lead to lameness. The disease’s containment usually involves strict and complex measures, including quarantine, and in some cases the termination of animals.

After a massive outbreak was reported in December 2010, about 3.31 million pigs and 150,000 cows were culled, and the government introduced its compulsory vaccination policy in January 2011.

According to Democratic Party Representative Bae Ki-woon, one out of every two pigs vaccinated against foot-and-mouth disease showed symptoms of necrosis - or cell death - near the injection area.

According to the lawmaker and the association, the defects were found in the pork after butchering. Their survey of one of the largest meat processors in the country showed that 48 percent of the pork exhibited those symptoms. With no known abnormalities in other parts of the meat, companies often cut out the tainted parts and process the rest.

The pork industry said that about 11,000 tons of pork is thrown away every year because of effects from the vaccination, a loss that amounts to about 130 billion won ($123 million).

The Korea Pork Producers Association said that because hog farmers must shoulder the costs of the damaged products, it makes many reluctant to follow the government’s vaccination order.

But farmers have also complained that the vaccines are ineffective. According to a survey conducted by Bae and the association, only about 22 percent to 42 percent of vaccinated pigs tested positive for having foot-and-mouth antibodies.

Hog farmers spend 2,000 won per pig for the vaccination, spending about 40 billion won in total every year. The vaccine is imported by a British manufacturer.

“Although I cannot say for sure without making site inspections, the low efficiency of the vaccine and the symptoms of necrosis could be a result of using a vaccine created primarily for cows,” said Joo Han-soo, professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Minnesota.

Joo, currently in Korea to attend an academic conference, explained that genetic tissue differences in cows and pigs could have caused the side effects.

As of now, there is no foot-and-mouth vaccine made especially for hogs. After one of the worst outbreaks in Asia, Korea and China used foot-and-mouth vaccines on pigs that were created for cows. The United States and Europe, where the outbreaks are rare, do not vaccinate their animals.

But the government is adamant about keeping its vaccination policy mandatory.

“Defective meat and the low effectiveness of the vaccines are the results of farmers vaccinating their pigs in unsanitary conditions,” said Kim Tae-yung, head of the General Division of Animal Health at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Because of a shortage of veterinarians, many farmers choose to vaccinate their hogs on their own, Kim said. He added that some farmers sometimes use the same needle to give injections to multiple animals.

“The National Institute of Animal Science and the Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency jointly examined the vaccine and concluded that there was no problem,” Kim said. “If we stop vaccinating, we won’t have the capacity to handle another outbreak like the one we experienced in 2010.”

Professor Joo agreed that improvements must be made.

“Instead of giving the shot in the meaty neck, it can be administered to the abdomen area, where the organs are located,” he said.

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