North Korea Weak Link in Fight Against Swine Flu


    27 October, 2019

    South Korea is creating traps and using unmanned aircraft and expert gunmen in an effort to stop wild pigs from spreading the disease swine flu from North Korea.

    African swine flu is deadly to pigs but is not a threat to humans. The virus has killed large numbers of pigs in many Asian countries. Experts believe wild hogs are a main reason for its spread. Officials say North Korea has ignored the South's repeated calls for joint efforts to stop the disease.

    South Korea has destroyed about 154,500 pigs in the past month. All were taken from farms near the North Korean border. North Korea has not released any detailed reports on the disease. But South Korea's intelligence agency says that pig herds in one North Korea province were almost totally lost. North Korea observers in Seoul say pork prices in markets there have increased.

    Start of the disease

    North Korea first reported an outbreak in May after the disease spread widely in neighboring China. Chinese officials say farms in the country have slaughtered at least 1.17 million pigs in an effort to control the disease since August 2018.

    North Korea told the World Organization for Animal Health that 77 of 99 pigs at a farm in Jagang province died of the disease. The remaining 22 pigs were destroyed. North Korea said it is fighting hard to stop the disease's spread, but has not reported any other outbreaks.

    Suh Hoon is director of South Korea's National Intelligence Service. He told lawmakers in a private meeting last month that African swine flu has spread across North Korea. He reportedly added that groups of wild pigs in an area north of the capital, Pyongyang, had been "annihilated" and people were complaining about the lack of meat.

    South Korean officials confirmed the first swine flu outbreak in the town of Paju on September seventeenth. Since then, officials have reported at least 13 more cases.

    Quarantine officials wear protective gear as a precaution against African swine fever at a pig farm in Paju, South Korea, Sept. 17, 2019. The notice reads:
    Quarantine officials wear protective gear as a precaution against African swine fever at a pig farm in Paju, South Korea, Sept. 17, 2019. The notice reads: "Under quarantine."

    Risks to South Korea

    Failure to contain the disease would be severely damaging for South Korea's pork industry. The situation would be much worse for the North, where food supplies are often limited.

    South Korean officials say North Korea had about 2.6 million pigs in 14 government-run or cooperative farms before the disease's outbreak.

    Cho Chung-hui is a former North Korean official in charge of farm animal issues. He fled to South Korea in 2011. He says pork makes up as much as 80 percent of protein eaten by North Korea's 25 million people. Many North Koreans raise and sell a pig or two each year to be able to buy rice.

    Cho said a 100-kilogram hog can be sold to buy about 150 kilograms of rice. That is enough for a family for a year.

    He said North Korean animal health officials and farms do not kill animals even if they are sick.

    Wild animals can spread the disease

    African swine fever spreads easily through contact with infected animals, animal waste and contaminated substances such as food, clothing and vehicles.

    The 248-kilometer border between North and South Korea is the most heavily secured in the world. However, South Korean officials and experts say wild pigs could still enter in and out of North Korea by swimming across rivers.

    Cho said heavy rains from a powerful ocean storm in September likely caused contaminated soil and water from North Korea to enter the South. Insects and rats could also spread the virus, he said.

    Whatever the source of the South Korean outbreaks, experts say controlling movements of wild pigs is very important.

    I'm Jonathan Evans.

    Kim Tong-Hyung and Hyung-jin Kim reported this story for the Associated Press news agency. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    herd –n. a group of animals that live or are kept together

    annihilate –v. to destroy completely

    contaminate –v. to cause something to become dirty or to carry something harmful

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