Still no communication
Mad cow fuss is about lack of trust, not science
Thousands of candles will light the heart of Seoul tonight, as they did four years ago. Government officials say the rekindled protest against the import of tainted U.S. beef is due to political instigation by opposition parties and leftist groups without scientific basis. True, there are elements of political football in the ongoing fuss about mad cow disease. Even so, President Lee Myung-bak and his aides have none but themselves to blame, as they first made political approaches to this issue.
Currently, a nine-member fact-finding mission is visiting the United States for what the government describes as an inspection but critics see as just a field trip. Given both the composition of the group ― all but one of the nine members are present and former government officials ― and the limitation of their activities there ― they can neither visit the farm in question nor conduct a sample survey ― the latter sounds more plausible.
The government also stresses it has drastically stepped up quarantine inspection of the U.S. beef, from 3 percent to 50 percent of imports. Yet even quarantine officers say no amount of sensory inspection of cut beef can detect risks without observing cows’ brains. One unidentified official, describing the whole act as a ``show,” confessed a sense of shame.
This administration’s political posturing remains unchanged from four years ago, when they made promises to the people ― to immediately stop import if the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) recurs in America ― only to escape the moment and with little intention of actually keeping it.
All these lies, makeshift excuses and hiding of facts are aggravating things far worse than they should be. Most Koreans know a case of BSE in an aged dairy cow can hardly be any reason for national brouhaha. Nor are Koreans more easily frightened or fanaticized than Europeans, Canadians and Japanese. It’s just they have different leadership.
In 2008, President Lee and his administration sparked a national fury by putting something else ahead of public safety and health, be it the nation’s overall exports to the U.S. or security guarantee from its biggest ally or both. What angered the people then was less the policy priority itself than the government’s failure to tell them why and how, i.e., the reason and process. All it did was to one-sidedly notify the people of the outcome after all was finished. Without the belated national protest, the import conditions must have been far more disadvantageous to Korea.
In 2012, things have changed little. The latest case of BSE might be a blessing in disguise, as it came when Washington was reportedly about to renew pressure to open wider the Korean beef market, and Seoul had already made certain promises in this regard.
The Lee administration must ponder why even the governing party and conservative groups are calling for the suspension of inspection. It’s not because of science or politics but because of keeping trust. Lee’s greatest failure as a leader is not setbacks in democracy, economy or even national security, but in respecting the people and being respected in return.