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‘U.S. Beef to Be Suspended If Public Health at Risk’

Posted May. 08, 2008 08:27,   


President Lee Myung-bak said yesterday that the government will immediately suspend U.S. beef imports if public health is believed to be threatened.

“The government is determined to sternly deal with whatever endangers the health and lives of the public,” he said after receiving a briefing from the government of North Jeolla Province. “Nothing comes before the people’s lives and they cannot be exchanged for anything.”

“The public is deeply worried over the resumption of U.S. beef imports, and the government will do everything to alleviate that worry. I will support the dairy industry. For cattle growers worried over the possible impact on their livelihoods due to the resumption of U.S. beef imports, I will devise countermeasures based on the experiences of other countries.”

The government will also expand labeling of country of origin on beef to hospitals, schools and military facilities, though President Lee acknowledged that restaurant owners might not welcome the tougher regulations.

“I plan to delegate all the responsibilities of implementation to the Food, Agriculture, Forest and Fisheries Ministry,” he said.

Agriculture Minister Chung Woon-chun also echoed President Lee’s comments at a parliamentary hearing on the reopening of U.S. beef imports the same day. “If mad cow disease is reported in the United States, the government will suspend imports of U.S. beef even at the risk of a trade dispute,” he said.

The government’s stance contradicts the provisions of the resumption deal reached by the two countries on April 18. The agreement says Korea cannot suspend American beef imports unless the United States loses its status as a mad cow disease-controlled country from the World Organization for Animal Health.

“I believe we kept our sovereignty on quarantine based on scientific standards set by the [organization], which has 172 member countries, and I am sure the U.S. will not suffer another outbreak of mad cow disease,” Chung said. “But if there is any possibility of risk, the imports will instantly be suspended. Though we might pay a high price, we will deal with any health risks coming from U.S. beef.”

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, however, ruled out renegotiation or revision on the beef agreement yesterday after giving a lecture at the Peterson Institute of International Economics in Washington.

Back in Seoul, Prime Minister Han Seung-soo will issue a public statement today on the safety of U.S. beef. His aide said Han will pledge to prioritize public health and safety.

swpark@donga.com sunshade@donga.com