Officials in Inner Mongolia deny outbreak despite local quarantine alert
WASHINGTON — ; Sheep farmers in the northern border regions of China's Inner Mongolia have complained of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in their county, despite insistence by local officials that the disease affecting the feet of sheep is a form of flu.
In late 2003, sheep in the Taohai township region of Wuyuan County began to fall sick with pain in their feet and difficulty walking and eating, and some — ; especially newborn sheep — ; died, according to local officials and farmers. But from that point their accounts diverge.
Foot and mouth disease affects all species of cloven-hoofed animals and can devastate livestock. Financial losses from the disease can be heavy in terms of direct losses from deaths in young animals, loss of milk, loss of meat, and a decrease in productive performance.
"This seems to be a rather bad case of foot-and-mouth," sheep farmer Fanfei told RFA's Mandarin service. "I don't know how many sheep have died, but there are a few households in our district which have caught foot-and-mouth. Some of the families have worse cases, some are not so bad."
"Very few of the sheep actually die, but they can't walk, don't eat, and often are in great pain throughout their bodies. Sometimes they starve, or die in great pain," he said.
County government officials contacted by RFA confirmed that there was an illness affecting sheep in the area, but they denied it was foot-and-mouth, known as 'illness No.5' among local farmers.
"It's not illness No.5. It's a sort of cold, and inflammation," one official said in a telephone interview. "Their legs are in slight pain. We've applied some anti-inflammatory medicine to the area and it cleared up in a couple of days."
Other farmers described sheep with sore hooves and mouths, unable to eat, and often wasting away as a result of the disease. "Their hooves are infected," one farmer told RFA. "They're not eating. I have seven or eight sheep, and three or four are sick." Another said: "Their feet are painful and their mouths are sore. This is getting worse and worse."
China banned imports of cloven-hoofed animals on Feb. 13, citing outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in Vietnam and Mongolia. Under emergency regulations issued by quarantine authorities, pigs, cattle, and their products are to be sent back or destroyed if they arrive at a Chinese border from those countries.
Authorities in the city of Erlian (Erenhot), on the Chinese border with Mongolia, stepped up quarantine and monitoring of the disease to prevent it from entering China, official media reported last week. Officials feared the virus, which is harmless to humans but highly contagious among animals, could be transmitted by wild Mongolian gazelles.
Mongolia reported a suspected outbreak of foot-and-mouth in its Orgon County on Feb. 4, with the disease spreading rapidly to neighboring counties around 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Chinese border. Mongolian officials also suspected antelopes as animal conveyors of the disease, which has killed at least 100 cattle there.
Across the border, Inner Mongolian farmers said they had heard radio broadcasts about preventative measures against foot-and-mouth, but they told RFA that Chinese officials had done nothing about it yet.
"There was a radio broadcast to Wuyuan county saying we should take preventative measures," one sheep farmer in the area said by telephone. "They were supposed to inoculate them, but they didn't come to give the injections, so what sort of immunization program is that?"
A Wuyuan County official contacted by telephone declined to comment on any preventive measures the government might take, saying, "We are very busy right now." Another official responded that "We are in the process of administering medication."
Fanfei, the farmer, urged the government to take action before the disease spreads further. "So far it hasn't spread very far. It has been confined to a relatively small area. We hope the government can start a prevention program as soon as possible. We farmers have to pay an inoculation fee of five yuan every year. They come once a year to spray disinfectant, which costs one yuan. So what are they doing with the rest of the money?"