Imported beef’s safety
Has government learned no lessons from 2008?
Upon the report of another case of mad cow disease found recently in the United States, many Koreans recall events four years ago. Unfortunately, they will likely continue to compare 2012 with 2008, given the lamentable lack of change in the government’s behavior in dealing with the foremost issue of public health.
The U.S. officials may be right to play down, based on scientific research, the risk in the latest occurrence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), as an ``atypical” case. It is also true Korea imports U.S. beef from cattle younger than 30 months rather than ``aged” affected cows.
As we all remember, however, it was not the possible occurrence of BSE here, much less its human form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), that drove even schoolgirls and housewives into two months of candlelit protests.
What moved millions of people was the Lee Myung-bak administration’s improper handling of national affairs, trying to hide information and ignoring and cheating of the people in health and safety issues, which any government must put ahead of anything else. Watching Seoul’s actions since the news broke Wednesday, one can’t help but notice this administration has changed painfully little.
The government decided to strengthen quarantine inspections of U.S. beef, instead of suspending imports as it promised the people four years ago. Agriculture ministry officials say they cannot take drastic action because of a lack of information and for fear of possible trade friction with Washington, citing other foreign importers of the U.S. beef, such as the European Union and Japan. We find none of these reasons plausible in view of different situations facing Korea from other importers.
Above all, the insufficient information should be reason for tougher, not softer, action and the agriculture ministry’s foremost concern is not a trade war but the safety of farm products. Unlike foreigners, Koreans eat almost all parts of cattle, including the bones and bowels, exposing themselves to far greater risks. Japan has set much tougher restrictions on U.S. imports than Korea, limiting them to cattle 20 months old or less. The ministry reportedly tried to suspend inspection earlier in the day but changed its mind later, backing up suspicions about pressure from somewhere else.
What should matter above all is the latest case has reaffirmed the U.S. beef is not 100 percent safe, unlike some Korean officials wish it to be.
Then they have no other choices but to keep their promise with the people, by halting quarantine procedures, dispatching inspectors to America for a joint probe and toughening the tracking of meat already in circulation. Otherwise, it means the government made promises to people that it cannot ― or will not ― keep.
Some local supermarkets have temporarily suspended the sale of U.S. beef in part out of concerns for public health and in part in consideration of their long-term business. Is the reason the Lee administration fails to follow in the footsteps of even private businesses because it has only a five-year contract?
If the administration cannot change itself, the people should do so ― through their votes.