US beef imports surge, as talks move forward on lifting bone-in meat ban

SOUTH KOREA - South Korea has imported 1,497 tons of U.S. beef since late April, as Seoul-Washington talks to lift the current ban on bone-in meat moves forward, the government said Monday.
calendar icon 16 July 2007
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The tally taken late last week showed 1,200 tons of meat entering the country in a one month period, compared to 248 tons reported for June 13, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry said.

It said while initial shipments that arrived in April and May were relatively small and brought in by plane, those that arrived after June were from major food companies including Swift, Tyson and Cargill.

Lottemart, a discount store chain, started last week to sell American beef and received positive feedback from consumers who sometimes stood in line to buy it. U.S. beef was priced at about half that of local "hanwoo" beef, and was about 15-25 percent cheaper than Australian beef.

Of the 1,497 tons, slightly more than 900 tons have already cleared customs, while the rest are undergoing quarantine inspections or are in the process of being unloaded in ports. Authorities said they shipped back and destroyed 67.1 tons because they did not meet the country's import standards that were agreed on with the United States in January 2006. The first U.S. beef shipment cleared quarantine inspection in late April.

Under the deal, South Korea lifted the import ban on American beef that had been in place since the outbreak of a mad cow disease in late 2003, but limited imports to bone-less beef from cattle aged 30 months or less.

"If demand rises at its current pace, the U.S. will easily surpass Australia as the number one foreign beef supplier to South Korea this year," a ministry official said.

The ministry also said South Korea and the U.S. have been in talks to rewrite sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) conditions that govern import standards and the talks are moving forward without unforeseen disturbances. Seoul policymakers said in May that new rules could be written as early as September.

A 10-person team of animal and meat experts returned from on-site inspections in the United States earlier in the month with the ministry to draw up a new guideline that could allow U.S. bone-in beef to be imported within the year.

Source: Yonhap News
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