South Korea confirmed on Wednesday more outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in areas previously not hit by the highly contagious animal disease, reports Xinhua.com. The Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said two cases of FMD were confirmed at cattle farms in Gangwon Province on the country's northeastern region. Two additional cases were detected on Tuesday at a pig farm in Yesan and a cattle farm in Daegu, 134 km and 300km from Seoul, respectively.

The latest outbreaks raise the number of FMD cases officially tallied by the government to 124 since the first case was confirmed in November 2010.

FMD has forced South Korea to cull and bury 2.16 million cattle, pigs, goats and deer, with losses estimated to be around 2 trillion won ($1.79 billion U.S.), according to the ministry.

On Monday, South Korean officials had announced that vaccinations and quarantine efforts were stemming the country's worst-ever FMD outbreak, which has overwhelmed the country’s animal health system. Officials are also under siege from animal rights activists who are claiming that most of the condemned animals have been buried alive, reports voanews.com.

Lee Won-bok, the president of South Korea’s Association for Animal Protection, says such culling is illegal and inhumane, and shows a lack of compassion in the industry. Lee, who says he’s witnessed live pigs being flung into 5-mt.-deep pits, is demanding authorities cease live burials and minimize the culling.

But, Lee Byoung-guan, deputy director of the National Veterinary Research and Quarantine Service, says central government authorities never ordered live burials. He says it appears local authorities made their own decisions to kill the animals in this manner.

Meanwhile, JoongAng Daily reports that North Korea is apparently suffering from its own bout of FMD, according to a South Korean military official.

"According to South Korean and U.S. intelligence, roads have been blocked by the military near Pyongyang to decrease movement of people," said the official, who asked not to be named. The source said that quarantine measures are proving difficult for North Korea, which lacks preventive medicine such as vaccines and quicklime in which to bury contagious animals. Besides that, North Korea’s population is largely starving.

Although the extremely contagious disease has only been detected in areas near North Korea's capital of Pyongyang, the communist military is known to raise livestock in large numbers to feed its soldiers, the publication says. The source says North Koreans have been consuming infected pigs and cattle instead of culling them.

North Korea last reported an FMD outbreak in 2007. International help ensued and roughly 4,000 animals were culled during that outbreak. North and South Korea cooperated to bring the 2007 outbreak under control but relations between the two neighbors are much more strained today.
-- Compiled from media reports