Ruling party chief calls for halting quarantine inspections of US beef
Ruling party chief Park Geun-hye said Friday Korea should halt quarantine inspections of American beef until it is confirmed safe to consume, as criticism grew over the government's decision to continue imports despite a new mad cow case in the U.S.
Quarantine inspections are a key requirement U.S. beef shipments must undergo to receive customs clearance. Halting the process would therefore have the same effect as suspending imports because shipments would not be cleared to reach the local market even if they arrive at the country's ports.
The remarks by Park, a leading presidential hopeful, increased pressure on the government, which has come under criticism for deciding to continue imports of U.S. beef with strengthened quarantine inspections despite the recent confirmation of a case of mad cow disease in the U.S.
Government officials have said the current situation does not merit an all-out halt of quarantine inspections as the latest case involving a dairy cow is not directly connected to beef that comes under South Korea's import regulations. Public and political criticism has not died down, however.
"I think the government should halt quarantine inspections until we get definite information convincing enough to the people through epidemiological investigation, and should suspend imports altogether if a final analysis shows there is even a slight problem with safety," Park said during a visit to the southeastern city of Masan.
Park said the government should not give the public the wrong perception that it is more interested in avoiding trade friction with the United States than in the health and safety of its people.
"I don't know how long it will be (before an investigation into the latest mad cow case is completed), but wouldn't people be worried during that period?" Park said. "Therefore, it would be desirable to first halt quarantine inspections."
American beef imports have long been a politically sensitive issue in Korea.
Korea resumed U.S. beef imports in 2008 after a five-year ban. The decision sparked months of anti-government rallies, seriously rocking the then fledgling government of President Lee Myung-bak, amid public perception his government endangered public health to curry favor with the U.S.
The government stressed at the time that the decision was based on scientific grounds.
Korea only imports beef from animals younger than 30 months with all "specified risk materials" removed. Those materials are the parts considered capable of transmitting the variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease to humans. The disease is reported to have been responsible for about 150 deaths.
This week, opposition parties and other critics have accused the government of reneging on a 2008 promise to immediately ban imports in the event of a new mad cow outbreak in the U.S., citing an advertisement the government ran in newspapers at the time to ease public concern about the possibility of tainted meat imports. (Yonhap)