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Korea Says Non-Organic US Beef is Unsafe

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry reportedly sent the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) a written opinion saying U.S. cattle still are not free from danger of mad cow disease, just a week after Seoul and Washington concluded free trade agreement (FTA) talks.

During the negotiations, the Korean government promised to consider importing U.S. beef containing bone fragments through reasonable procedures if the OIE concludes the U.S. as the country that can control mad cow disease risks.

During an FTA-related hearing of the National Assembly's Committee on Agriculture, Forestry, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries on May 2, the Democratic Labor Party's (DLP) Kang Ki-kap revealed what he read from undisclosed documents that the ministry sent to the OIE on April 9. In the documents, the ministry demands that more sufficient data or on-site inspections will be needed in some beef categories.

According to the documents, the ministry stressed that the U.S. should confirm whether or not its farm houses observe international regulations on the advance inspection for mad cow disease cases. According to the ministry, the U.S. does not have an effective system to trace the origin of cattle affected by the disease or routes of infection. It also claims the the U.S. permits dangerous parts of contaminated cows to be used as feedstuff for other non-ruminant animals, raising concerns of cross-contamination.

 The ministry also took issue with the OIE criteria used to classify nations as those that can control the related risks. The OIE classifies a nation that raises more than 1 million cattle annually and obtains 300,000 points or more for seven years as having the ability to control mad cow disease risks, but the ministry say such a standard cannot be applied to nations which slaughter over 40 million cattle every year like the U.S.

However, since concluding the FTA talks with the U.S., the government, based on OIE findings, has stressed to the Korean public that the country will inevitably resume imports of American beef, in what seems to be an attempt to prepare to meet the U.S. demands once the FTA takes effect.

The ministry has allowed only members of the committee to read the classified documents, saying disclosing them to the public would be revealing negotiation strategy. "If the documents are revealed, we can't rule out the possibility the U.S. could react in advance," said one ministry official.

Kang, the National Assemblyman, said, "Since Alex Tiermann, chairman of OIE's Code Commission, is an official of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, so the U.S. must already know the contents of the written opinion presented by the ministry."

"If the problem of the safety of U.S. beef is made public in South Korea, public opposition against importing the U.S . beef will grow," Kang added. "Therefore, the government may have worried that the trade pact with the U.S. will fail" if the documents are made public.

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]