Few of us can have failed to notice over recent weeks the devastating power of nature and the loss and tragedy that result when preparation is inadequate.

The events in Japan have been terrible, and the country’s sea defenses provided little protection against the tsunami. It will be a long and painful road to recovery.

Assessing the damage  

However, this has not been the only tragedy in Asia over recent months. One within the pig industry is now, hopefully, drawing to a close, yet similarly demonstrates to incredible damage that nature can do.

Korea’s pig industry will now hopefully start to rebuild, but it is worth considering just how much damage the most recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease has caused both financially and to reputations.

The FMD outbreak that emerged in Korea last November resulted in a third of its pig inventories being culled. Pork production has fallen to its lowest level for 20 years. Local commentators believe the industry will not recover until 2014 at the earliest.

This year, local production is expected to drop to 760,000 MT, according to a report published in early March by the USDA. The report continues that while the shortfall in domestically produced pork will be somewhat offset by imports, overall consumption in the country will fall. Prices have already reached record highs, and the government has abolished import duties on certain pork products to help maintain supplies.

Consumption is forecast to fall by nearly 12% this year to stand at 1.37 million tons. This decline is not only the result of reduced supplies and higher prices, but has also been due to fears over the safety of eating pork resulting from intense media coverage of the outbreak.


Despite the scale of the problem, the Korean government has not ignored the situation. Since late November, the authorities have introduced quarantine measures, initiated vaccination campaigns and, as of the end of January, had culled 2.2 million animals. The overall cost of the effort at that time was $1.6 billion.

In late January, highlighting the severity of the situation, the FAO’s chief veterinary officer Juan Lubroth said: “The current FMD dynamics in eastern Asia, as well as the magnitude of the outbreak in South Korea, are unlike anything we’ve seen for at least half a century.”

He continued that, when responding to outbreaks, countries should adhere to accepted practices that adequately take animal welfare and environmental impacts into account.

Difficult path to recovery  

I can only assume that this comment referred to video footage that has been posted on YouTube showing the disposal of live pigs. I won’t go into detail here of what is shown in the films, you can look for yourself, and it is also worth reading the comments that have been posted.

The impact of what is shown is likely to be far greater than simply few consumers turning away from eating Korean pork, the reputation of the whole country could suffer. And in today’s era of global communication, the eyes of the world are always upon you.

Coping with disease outbreaks is never easy, particularly when that disease is FMD. It is now 10 years since the UK’s worst FMD outbreak and images of burning cattle are still fresh in the minds of many.

The old saying “A stitch in time saves nine”, holds as true today as it ever did. The more prepared you for something the easier it will be to cope with it. It may be difficult to be prepared for the forces of nature, but fully considering all aspects of a possible disaster is one place to start.