Since November last year South Korea has suffered from a rapid spread of foot and mouth disease outbreaks resulting in massive culling of more than 2 million livestock across the country.
And in an effort to slow down the advancement of this highly infectious virus, the government decided to take an extreme preventative measure,which was to bury the infected animals alive stirring a heated debate amongst animal activisits and other communities.
Although the government recently revised its FMD quarantine rules to limit the culling of livestock, as it called upon an increase in use of vaccinations to protect the animals, Korea had been under the microscope for the past few months for its past FMD quarantine measures
For more on this story, we have Arirang Today's Park Hee-ju in the studio.
[Reporter : ] Hello there. Well.. first of all according to the World Organization for Animal Health, it strictly specifies that the welfare of the animals should be ensured until they are dead. And animal activists insist that Korea is violating their regulations.
This epidemic has had a major impact on both animals and people alike becoming one of the most serious issue in Korean history.
Religious rituals along with NGO protests and psychological counselings for those who had to partake in the culling let's take a look at how far this contagious virus has affected our society
The highly infectious foot-and-mouth disease first hit the Korean peninsula in November of last year. In order to quell the spread of the disease even further, animals are being slaughtered all across the nation.
[Interview : ] "After I saw the scene with my own eyes, I kept hearing the squeals of those pigs. I couldn't sleep for about 20 days."
[Interview : ] "The cruel and inhumane treatment of those animals will be long remembered by many as a shocking incident."
The massive stamping out of both infected and healthy animals is making many people weep in agony. But was this measure really necessary
At this temple located in the heart of Seoul, about one thousand people gathered on this cold winter day. Unshaken by the biting wind, they mournfully recited prayers.
[Interview : Kim In-sun, Seoul resident] "So many cows and pigs have been killed after the outbreak of FMD. I came because I heard that a "cheondojae" ritual was going to be held for them."
A "cheondojae" ritual was taking place to comfort the spirits of animals that were killed after the outbreak of FMD.
The expressions of all the attendants were woeful.
The mourners tried to appease the souls of the animals who had to die in such a way. At the same time, the attendees were raising awareness on how selfish human beings can be and calling on others to repent.
[Interview : Park Pung-ja, Seoul resident] "It pains me so much to see the animals being buried alive."
[Interview : Ja Bi-sim, Seoul resident] "I really hope that the FMD will be eradicated soon."
[Interview : Jang Bok-seon, Seoul resident] "All lives are sacred, including those of the animals."
Two months have passed since the first FMD outbreak. At the moment it has spread to 55 cities and counties.
To handle the situation, the government ordered all infected animals to be stamped out. So far, the expense incurred by the FMD has amounted to about US$1.8 billion.
As of January 20th, about 2.28 million animals have been culled, many of them literally buried alive rather than subjected to mercy killings.
With the outbreak of the FMD, the government raised the alert level for livestock disease to "serious," which is the highest level. It also formed a central task force to fight the disease.
[Interview : Maeng Hyung-kyu, Minister
Ministry of Public Administration and Security] "The National Emergency Management Agency will take a series of interdepartmental actions such as monitoring the overall progress, building a cooperative system among divisions, and supporting regional preventive measures."
A total of 4,400 farms have been affected by the FMD so far. To the farmers, their livestock was like family.
What hurt more than the financial losses was that they had to say goodbye to their beloved animals.
[Interview : Jeong Cheol-geun, Farm owner] "Because the cows become fidgety around unfamiliar people,I have to kill them with my own hands. It's an unbearable task. I'm drinking at night to forget it all."
Government officials are also experiencing great difficulties, forced to bury the animals while knowing how much it would pain the farmers.
Many of those who were present at the site have suffered from mental stress after the harrowing experience.
[Interview : Jang Eun-su, Government official] "Since it's so cold, I could still see the cows' breath, even though they were not moving. I felt sorry, because I realized that's not the right way to treat an animal."
Korea's FMD crisis has recently caught the attention of the international community. One animal protection group criticized the practice of burying the animals alive, claiming that it defied the regulations of the World Organization for Animal Health. They called for a culling method that would minimize the pain felt by the animals.
[Interview : Philip Lymbery, Chief Executive
Compassion in World Farming ] "The OIE, of which the Republic of Korea is a member, stipulates that animals being killed in instances such as foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks should be killed using methods which either result in immediate deaths"
[Interview : Michael Mudd
USA] "You want to be saved and have the people saved, but also there has to be a balance on how you treat the animals as well."
Other domestic organizations that work for the harmonious co-existence of animals and humans have also risen up against the inhumane killings.
But the dead animals aren't the only source of worry.
FMD is posing a grave threat to not just livestock but the entire ecosystem.
An urgent meeting was held to warn that the FMD was capable of causing much more damage to our society.
[Interview : Woo Hee-jong, Professor of Veterinary Medicine
Seoul National University] "If this situation continues on, it is inevitable that a new form of disease will appear in our society, one that will not only affect the animals but also human beings."
The rampant foot-and-mouth disease can very well become a boomerang that is about to change direction and target the human beings.
[Interview : Choi Jae-ho, Member
Andong Catholic Farmers' Association] "It breaks my heart to see animals that were like my family get killed like that. I hope heartless situations like this won't happen again in the future."
Millions of animals have suffered tragic deaths at the hands of their heartbroken breeders. Right now the FMD disaster is calling upon us humans to take responsibility and introspection of our actions.
I hear we are also dealing with serious environmental issues as well[Reporter : ] That's right. Because the burial is carried out in a hurry, they use an excavator to dig out the soil and then cover the ground with two sheets of vinyl, rather than adding a layer of clay inside. So when the bodies are thrown into the pit, the vinyl can rip and result in the body fluids of the dead animals leaking out.. and leads to the underground water pollution
But with the new revision of FMD quarantine measures the number of the slaughtered animals may decrease[Reporter : ] Hopefully. The government specified that only infected animals and those that have yet to develop FMD antibodies are to be culled.
Well, let's all hope for the eradication of FMD. Alright, Hee-ju. Thank you for coming in today.