The government decided to dispatch a private-government mission to California Sunday to conduct an on-site study in the wake of a mad cow disease case reported there last week. The survey is seen as an appropriate measure, conserving that the government has an obligation to ensure people’s right to live a healthy life.
In another development, Thailand has reportedly slapped a temporary ban on U.S. beef imports following Indonesia that announced its import ban right after a dairy cow in California was confirmed as America’s fourth domestic case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, last week.
Against this backdrop, some progressive civic groups declared a candlelight rally in downtown Seoul Wednesday, urging the government to immediately stop beef imports from the U.S. Wednesday (May 2) marks the fourth anniversary of the massive candlelight protests that shook the nation following the government’s improper handling of U.S. beef imports.
We vividly remember that the protests that began peacefully in Seoul turned into massive anti-government rallies, leaving the heart of Seoul devoid of law and order for months.
In the latest mad cow case, the government also has a lot to be blamed for its poor response; unlike its promise four years ago to suspend imports, the government only stopped short by only strengthening quarantine inspections. The government and the ruling party have also shown wide differences in how to deal with the case.
Given that most other nations, including those in the European Union and Japan that consume a lot of beef have not stopped beef imports, it would not be easy for Korea to take unilateral action.
Civic groups are right to criticize the government for not putting public health before anything else but wrong to call for candlelight vigils prematurely even before the true picture of the latest mad cow case is clarified. People’s psychological trauma from the 2008 protests is understandable but this can’t be a reason for rallies that could escalate into violent clashes between civic groups and police, like it did four years ago.
It’s time to remain calm before taking action and we should be careful so the recent mad cow case might not be misused politically.