August 2, 2008


South Korea to maintain US beef age limit


South Korea will maintain the current age limit of US cattle for beef exports until domestic concerns subside, according to South Korea's agriculture minister Chung Woon-chun on Friday (August 1, 2008).


Chung said it is South Korea's prerogative to discontinue the "Less than 30-mouth Age-Verification Quality System Assessment (QSA) Programme" agreed upon by Seoul and Washington in June. The remarks follow the programme's critics who said the US government or meat exporters could decide that public sentiment in South Korea has improved sufficiently and halt the QSA programme. 


The South Korean public has been critical of the US beef deal since it came to light and there were local concerns that the deal, which lifted nearly all import restrictions, could bring mad cow disease to the Asian country.


The addendum to the April 18 beef pact permits imports of beef only from animals under 30 months old "until Korean consumer confidence in US beef improves."


Chung said the programme is not designed to be maintained permanently but there is no time limit either.


Chung, however, admitted that Seoul had not been fully prepared for the kind of backlash it saw following the April agreement, which led to a spate of public demonstrations that eventually turned violent.


"Since last year when the talks kicked off, the focus of the agriculture ministry had been limited to reducing the fallout to local cattle ranchers," Chung said.


Chung added that the reason he and President Lee publicly apologised for the beef deal was not because US beef poses health risk but because they had not properly gauged the public's concerns.


South Korea resumed quarantine inspections of US beef as of late June, with the first shipments of bone-in beef arriving on Tuesday (July 29, 2008).


South Korea had previously banned all US beef imports after a case mad cow disease was discovered in the US in late 2003. Before the ban, South Korea was the third-largest consumer of US beef, after Japan and Mexico.

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