Lawmakers seek to require import ban following mad cow disease
A group of lawmakers are moving to force the government to immediately ban any beef imports from countries with a confirmed mad cow disease case, which the government said Tuesday might contradict with international regulations and the country's trade agreements.
The move was proposed on May 30 by Rep. Kim Yung-rok of the main opposition Democratic United Party in a revision to the law on animal disease. The revision bill was referred to the National Assembly Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Committee last Monday.
The envisioned revision follows the latest case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease that was reported by the United States in April. Seoul did not ban U.S. beef imports then, but only intensified its inspection of shipments to see if they included any specific risk materials.
"The government had promised in June 2008 to immediately ban beef imports following an outbreak of mad cow disease (in any country). But it did not ban imports when the United States confirmed its fourth mad cow disease case earlier this year," Rep. Kim said of reasons for his bill.
The revision, if legislated, will force the government to immediately place an import ban on beef from any country with a confirmed case of BSE.
The government says such a move may very well lead to trade conflicts as it contradicts with World Trade Organization regulations, as well as the country's own trade agreements, including the one with the United States, which states the country may ban imports only when there are serious and immediate threats to public health.
"Forcing the government to ban imports even when there is no immediate threat to the public health might lead to trade disputes and a likely loss if there is a formal suit," an official from the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said.
The revision bill was co-sponsored by 126 other lawmakers, but whether it will be voted into law still remains to be seen due to apparent opposition from the ruling Saenuri Party, which controls 149 seats in the 300-seat unicameral parliament.
"It is difficult for the ruling party to consider a move that might contradict with WTO regulations," said Rep. Hong Moon-pyo, who also sits on the parliamentary food and agriculture committee. (Yonhap)