US promises transparency for Korea on mad cow disease
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.S. government insisted Wednesday that American beef is safe to eat despite reports of the first case of mad cow disease here in six years.
It pledged to fully update Korea on related developments.
"Our investigation is ongoing, but here are a few things that we do know for a fact: It is perfectly safe to eat beef and drink milk without concern for BSE," Matt Herrick, an official at the Department of Agriculture, said in an inquiry by Yonhap News Agency.
The department announced the previous day that a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was reported in a California dairy.
Some of Korea's retailers temporarily suspended the sale of U.S. beef, citing consumers' concerns.
Seoul, however, did not take any action to restrict the imports of U.S. beef. South Korea is the world's fourth-largest importer of American beef.
"This detection should not affect U.S. trade and we will continue to work with our trading partners, including Korea, in a transparent manner to assure that they have the information they need to educate their public and consumers about the safety of U.S. beef and dairy products," Herrick said.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, meanwhile, he was sending out a letter to 20 major trading partners to emphasize the safety of U.S. beef.
"We've been appreciative of the support that Mexico and Canada and Japan and South Korea and other countries have indicated publicly, that they have no reason at this point in time to impose a ban," he told reporters.
The White House refused to comment on the issue, asking media to contact the Department of Agriculture for details.
For the South Korean government, the mad cow disease issue is politically sensitive.
South Korea banned imports of American beef in 2003 amid concerns over mad cow disease in the U.S.
In 2008, the Lee Myung-bak administration, seeking to expand trade with the U.S., decided to resume U.S. beef imports.
The move triggered weeks of massive public protests and Lee was forced to offer a public apology for ignoring public opinion.
Currently, South Korea imports cattle only younger than 30 months old.
The department told Yonhap that the California cow infected with mad cow disease is "more than 30 months of age, but the official age will be determined after the full investigation is completed."