Following the report of the first case of mad cow disease in the United States in five years, the Korean government decided Wednesday to intensify inspections of U.S. beef, but stopped short of stronger action such as stopping imports or putting customs clearance on hold.
The Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MIFAFF) said Wednesday that it will not stop quarantine inspections of U.S. beef products, which it can do if cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease are reported in the world’s top economy.
“We will strengthen customs clearance of U.S. beef after learning of the discovery of a BSE case there. In addition, we have asked for detailed information on the issue from the U.S.” a MIFAFF official said.
“Should we discover mad cow disease-affected meat during the quarantine procedures, we will immediately halt imports.”
Earlier this week, the U.S. confirmed its fourth case of mad cow disease ever for the first time in around eight years.
Washington said that it found a dairy cow suffering from BSE in central California.
BSE is a fatal disease in cattle, which can trigger human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), a human brain disorder.
vCJD was first detected in 1995 in the United Kingdom and has claimed several lives worldwide. Korean people’s worries about U.S. beef were mostly over concerns about contracting vCJD.
The imports of U.S. beef products were prohibited by the Seoul administration in the early and mid 2000s after a BSE case was reported there.
After a years-long ban due to worries about the disease, Korea resumed imports of U.S. beef in 2008 in the hope of obtaining U.S. congressional approval for a free trade agreement between the two allies.
In order to deal with concerns on mad cow disease, however, Seoul only accepted U.S. beef from cattle aged less than 30 months since the disease is typically seen in older animals.
But the step instantly saw the incumbent Lee Myung-bak administration suffer from a public backlash with people holding candlelit protests and rallies across the country for months.
Thereafter, the consumption of U.S. beef products was brisk as an increasing number of local consumers gained confidence in them and hardly anybody took issue with safety.
In this climate, Korea emerged as one of the leading destinations for U.S. beef over the past years with the former’s industries taking advantage of meat for their merchandise.