Bird flu: S Korea slaughters dogs, cats, pigs, mice

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south koreaBEIJING, Nov. 29 (Xinhuanet) -- South Korean quarantine officials in Iksan City on Tuesday began the slaughter of pigs and dogs although international health experts have questioned the necessity of killing non-poultry species to prevent the spread of bird flu.

But the officials insist the decision to slaughter pigs and dogs was not unusual and that the step has been taken in other countries without public knowledge.

Park Kyung-hee, an official at Iksan city hall, said Wednesday 426 pigs and four dogs have been killed along with 127,200 chickens and 6.8 million eggs.

Park said nearly 700 dogs -- bred on farms for consumption -- were to be killed, but it was unclear when the slaughter would take place. She said efforts are focused on destroying more susceptible animals like poultry and pigs for now.

A village resident, Im Soon-duck, said she was more concerned about losing her three pigs than a dog, which was a present from her daughter in Seoul. Im lives next to a chicken farm where a second outbreak of bird flu was confirmed Tuesday, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Seoul.

"Dogs are good for keeping us not bored. But pigs -- it costs us a lot to buy those pigs," said the 66-year-old Im. "We people in rural areas depend on pigs and cows for our living."

The government is to compensate farmers for their lost livestock, but the exact amount is not known.

Since ravaging Asia's poultry in late 2003, the H5N1 virus has killed at least 153 people worldwide. Infections among people have been traced to contact with infected birds, but experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that could create a human pandemic.

Dogs bred for food are regularly slaughtered in South Korea, where dog meat is widely consumed, especially among middle-aged men who believe bosintang, or dog soup, is good for stamina and virility.

"I do feel bad that my dogs would have to be killed when they are not even sick," said Noh Jung-dae, a 63-year-old farmer who also lives next to the chicken farm that saw the latest outbreak. "But, if the government has to do it to prevent the disease, what can I do?"

Noh said he had planned to eat some of the six dogs that he was raising.

The scene in the rural area is quite different from the expensive neighborhoods of Seoul. In the capital an increasing number of people keep cats and dogs as pets. Pet shops are easy to find in the city, where there are even coffee shops specially designed for pets and their owners.

In Iksan, some younger villagers raised concerns about the slaughter.

"It's just too cruel to indiscriminately kill other livestock when there is obviously no proof these animals can transmit the bird flu virus to humans," said 29-year-old Kim Sung-tae. "I have little puppies that are as small as my palm. How can they have the heart to kill those small things?"

Animal-rights activists called the government move "unacceptable."

"The government should know better about their course of action," said Kum Sun-lan, spokesman for Korea Animal Protection Society. "It is unacceptable how they just move on with the extermination procedure without any reliable evidence for it."

Park said the killing of all animals was in accordance with national guidelines, adding that stray cats and mice will also be killed.

source - Xinhua