Korea Strengthens US Beef Inspections Amid Reignited BSE Fears

SOUTH KOREA - The government said Thursday it has strengthened inspections on US beef imports following the detection of mad cow disease in the United States.
calendar icon 24 July 2017
clock icon 3 minute read

According to The Korea Times, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs held a quarantine committee meeting to share information on the outbreak of mad cow disease in the US and gather expert opinion. The ministry has boosted quarantine measures, increasing the ratio of the US beef going through inspections to 30 percent from the current 3 percent.

The step follows the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announcing that an 11-year-old cow in Alabama was found to have an "atypical" variety of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease.

The USDA said that it is not the classic variety that is linked to Creutzfeldt Jakob disease in people. Cattle are known to be infected with "typical" BSE through feed contaminated with infectious prion agents, such as meat-and-bone meal containing protein derived from rendered infected cattle.

Atypical BSE, meanwhile, generally occurs in older cattle, usually over eight years old, and is known to arise rarely and spontaneously in all cattle populations.

The USDA emphasized that atypical BSE cases do not impact official BSE risk status recognition.

"Therefore, this finding of an atypical case will not change the negligible risk status of the United States, and should not lead to any trade issues," it noted, making clear that it has no plan to stop beef exports.

Korea, however, has experienced trauma over mad cow disease. Back in 2008, former President Lee Myung-bak decided to import US beef after meeting with then US President George W. Bush, despite public concern over mad cow disease. It led to severe protests by consumers who held candlelit rallies that shook the new administration at the time.

The last time atypical BSE was detected in the United States was April 2012. There was a demand from consumer groups for the government to stop imports, but it just strengthened quarantine measures, pulling up the ratio of beef inspections to 50 per cent from 3 per cent.

Call for an import ban

Lawyers for a Democratic Society, an NGO, claimed that the government should stop US beef imports "to protect the people's health." Korea can suspend imports under US beef "import requirements" which the two countries agreed upon if it is necessary for public health and safety.

Experts generally agree that chances are slim for the beef of infected cattle to enter Korea. The country imports beef from young cattle aged up to 30 months, which are less likely to be infected with BSE. Specified risk materials, which include skulls, brains, spinal cords, tonsils and parts of the small intestine, are removed from the cattle as well.

The Korean Federation of Medical Activist Groups for Health Rights, however, said that the atypical type is as risky as classic BSE, demanding an immediate suspension until imports are proven to be safe.

Korea is the fourth largest importer of US beef, and is a market bigger than Japan for the US cattle farmers. It imported 156,000 tons of beef from America last year, up 46.5 per cent from the previous year.

TheCattleSite News Desk

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