Officials hurry to curb contamination from burials, aid meat imports
An investigation into more than 4,000 burial sites for animals slaughtered in the fight against foot-and-mouth disease will scrutinize the burials’ impact on the environment and soil, the ruling Grand National Party and the administration decided Thursday.
They also decided to exempt quota tariffs on imported pork and powdered milk whose prices are rocketing as a result of the epidemic spreading across the country.
Rep. Kim Moo-sung, floor leader of the GNP, said once the examination ends, the administration will repair problematic sites by the end of March.
“There are mounting concerns over the safety of the burials, but I don’t think you need to be too anxious about that,” he said.
Party and government officials including Environment Minister Lee Maan-ee, Public Administration Minister Maeng Hyung-kyu and Agriculture Minister Yoo Jeong-bok also decided to compensate farmers and businessmen in disease-stricken areas. The government will also establish water supplies on problematic sites so that residents will not have to use ground water. The parties have agreed to use the emergency fund instead of requesting additional money from the National Assembly.
Kim estimated the damage of the disease to be around 3 trillion won ($2.6 billion). More than 3.1 million pigs, cows and other animals have been killed and buried at 4,054 sites around the country.
Kim said temporarily abolishing tariffs was expected to boost dairy and pork supplies, which currently carry taxes of 20 percent and 25 percent, respectively.
The meeting follows a report by the Ministry of Environment revealing that reckless slaughter and burial ― and occasionally live burial ― of livestock in order to contain the FMD could cause environmental disasters.
Among 89 sampled sites in North Gyeongsang Province, 61 needed measures to prevent further contamination. It said torrential rain, frequent over spring and summer, could wash away unstable soil containing various germs and contaminants and flow to sources of drinking water. The ministry said some sites may have to be relocated.
A 2008 report by the Korean Environment Corporation ― which sampled 23 burial sites of livestock slaughtered to prevent FMD and avian influenza that prevailed here between 2004 and 2010 ― found water in the vicinity of eight burial sites had been severely contaminated by leaked germs and other matter. The water was as filthy as leachate from dumping grounds, the report said.
Meanwhile, the Korea Water Resources Corporation is to supply 400,000 bottles of drinking water to residents in FMD-hit regions. Local educational superintendents have also ordered temporary closure of schools in areas stricken by disease to prevent it spreading further.
The Korea Animal Improvement Association asked the government to allow them to import 5,000 Australian dairy cattle to keep up with market demand. According to the association, the slaughtered livestock accounts for 30 percent of the farmed pigs and 7 percent of the milk cows, leading to a more than 10 percent drop in milk production and a doubling of pork prices.