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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Times on Feb. 8)

All News 07:10 February 08, 2017

Foot-and-mouth fear again

The government put in place a 30-hour nationwide travel ban for all livestock farms through midnight Tuesday following confirmation of foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks.

The nation is on the alert against the infectious livestock disease even before the bird flu fear has faded. This is the third time that foot-and-mouth and avian influenza outbreaks have been reported simultaneously.

On Sunday, 195 cattle were culled at a dairy farm in Boeun, North Chungcheong Province, after five cows tested positive for the disease, which can be fatal for hoofed animals such as cows and pigs. The agriculture ministry also confirmed a second infection at a cow farm in Jeongeup, North Jeolla Province, more than 100 kilometers away from Boeun, Monday night. All infected livestock there were also culled.

The ministry raised its foot-and-mouth alert level and said it would vaccinate all 3.3 million cattle in the country.

The ministry's seemingly swift response is encouraging, considering its previous fiascos in combating foot-and-mouth disease and more recently, bird flu. Yet it is too early to be optimistic.

Because both diseases are highly contagious, the damage from failing to contain them early can be catastrophic. Foot-and-mouth disease, in particular, is entirely different in the scale of damage. The economic damage from the spread of the disease between late 2010 and April 2011 was about 3 trillion won, with 3.5 million livestock slaughtered.

The farm ministry has been discounting the possibility of another massive culling, noting that cattle and pigs have been vaccinated vigorously since 2011.

But the ministry's insistence has proven to be an empty boast as it turned out that only one out of the 20 cows at the farm in Jeongeup had antibodies against the foot-and-mouth virus. This might mean that the livestock farmers were negligent in vaccinating their cows to cut expenses. With vaccinations for cloven-hoofed livestock mandatory now, it is critical to oblige farmers to abide by the rule.

The authorities should do whatever they can to prevent the infectious disease from spreading further. What is most important though is farmers' active cooperation and efforts. Our economic woes might be irrecoverable if the foot-and-mouth virus spreads nationwide like the avian influenza did.

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