Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Foot-and-Mouth Disease and the World Cup

I wasn't able to find much time to write following the Seicho-No-Ie National Conventions at the beginning of May, but there has been so much that has happened in the past 10 days. How many know that there is actually a foreboding epidemic that is looming behind the excitement of the opening of the World Cup Games? The Japanese media has, until now, only given it a casual mention in the papers, but according to the extensive AFP article released from Seoul today, Korea has killed over 40,000 pigs suspected of having contracted foot-and-mouth disease.

I wrote about foot-and-mouth disease in a number of journal entries last year, with the outbreaks in those cases originating in the EU countries such as the UK or France. But this time the outbreak originated in a neighboring country, Korea, and, with the World Cup Games beginning soon, and people from around the world traveling between Korea and Japan for these games, I can't help but be concerned.

Foot-and-mouth disease is an illness that primarily infects hoofed mammals (cows, water buffalo, pigs, sheep, goats, etc.). Last year, beginning in mid-February, it spread throughout England. It's extremely contagious, and since it can be transmitted through dirt, hay or dry grass, and even clothing, it can even be carried by the tires on a car or the dirt on someone's shoes. It can also be carried through the air. The infected animals get blisters on the skin or mucous membranes of their mouth, hooves or near their breasts. Large quantities of this virus are secreted through these blisters and excreta. The meat and organs of the animal also contain a tremendous amount of the virus. So, if even one in the herd of animals is found to have the disease, the entire herd must be destroyed to prevent the illness from spreading to other animals or from being carried and spread by other animals, people, and grass. In England last year, sporting events scheduled to be held near the contaminated site had to be cancelled.

On May 3rd of this year, the Korean Agriculture Ministry found a pig suspected of having foot-and-mouth disease. This was confirmed through tests conducted the next day, and, on that same day, Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries ibanned the import of livestock and meat products and by-products from Korea. Subsequent to this, the disease spread to pigs at farms approximately 60 miles to the south of Seoul in Anseong, and even further south to Cheohan, a total of eight locations. To date, 55,000 pigs and cows suspected of having the disease have been slaughtered. Hundreds of soldiers are being mobilized, and it is said that in points near Anseong, 60-90,000 animals are targeted to be killed. This is being done in order to kill all pigs and cattle within a 3 kilometer radius of the contaminated areas. And, within a 10 kilometer radius of Anseong, the movement of humans as well as livestock is being strictly restricted. Of the 106 livestock markets, 77 are closed.

The English scientific publication, New Scientist, covered this problem in their May 8th issue, saying that hundreds of thousands of people will be traveling internationally for these World Cup Games, and "there is a concern that amongst them, some people will bring the virus back to their home countries, and to the co-host country, Japan." The point emphasized by this publication was that, unlike the cases in England, the foot-and-mouth disease in this case has been found in pigs, and "pigs vomit 100 times more of the virus than sheep or cows." That, and the fact that the point where the disease was first detected was in Anseong, but spread quickly to Jinsen which "indicates that the virus was carried through the air." The reason for this conclusion is that there is a distance of 25 kilometers between the two cities, and it spread despite the control measures being enforced. Jinsen is located only about 30 kilometers from one of the sites for the World Cup games.

Attention will be centered on what counter-plans the Korean government will implement within the two weeks left until the opening of the Games, and just how successful they will be. In the worst possible case scenario (Of course, we would like to prevent this from happening at all costs), it may be that both the Korean and Japanese governments will have to decide between "the damage to the cattle raising industry" or "canceling the Games."

Although I've written about this before, foot-and-mouth disease does not attack humans nor is it a "fatal disease" for animals. The reason for this mass slaughter, then, is because the contaminated animals lose their value as a marketable product. Moreover, since contamination is so strong, they want to prevent further spreading of the disease by "quickly killing all animals within the contaminated area"" In other words, these costly mass slaughters become necessary because you look at the lives of these animals only from the human perspective. Is this not a huge contradiction for modern civilization?

- MT

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