From June this year, South Korea will allow certain levels of animal feed additive zilpaterol in beef, opening the door to imports of some meat containing the growth enhancer and its domestic sale, a government official said.
Seoul had said in October that restrictions would be eased sometime in 2014, ending a zero tolerance policy on zilpaterol-based drugs such as Merck & Co's Zilmax.
When a video emerged in the US in August showing animals struggling to walk and with other signs of distress after taking a growth drug, the feed additive has been under global scrutiny.
For more than two months last year, South Korea suspended some US beef imports after traces of zilpaterol were found in two shipments.
Son Seong-wan, a director in South Korea's food ministry, said that from June the government would allow one part per billion (ppb) of zilpaterol in beef muscle and five ppb in beef liver. He said that compared with levels of two ppb in beef muscle permitted in Canada and 12 ppb in beef liver in the US. He added that 60 days of public hearings on the move had begun in February.
Many Asian and European countries ban the import of zilpaterol-fed beef due to concerns about the side effects of additives.