Go to contents

U.S. Beef Subject to Stricter Customs Procedures

Posted June. 27, 2008 03:14,   


From now on, all domestic beef importers must report the beef cuts they are importing and the age of cattle to the Korea Customs Service (KCS) at the customs clearance stage. This is to bar beef from cattle older than 30 months from entering the local market.

For the shipment containing beef parts that are still controversial whether they are specified risk materials (SRMs) such as intestines and backbones, the government will introduce a tracking system under which the beef shipment is traced from production through the entire domestic distribution route.

When local importers that do not participate in the voluntary restriction program aimed at only importing beef from cattle younger than 30 months, import U.S. beef, they will be subjected to special supervision by the customs office.

The KCS said Thursday that it came up with these tightened customs procedures to keep in line with the new sanitary regulations for U.S. beef imports that came into effect that day.

○ Mandatory declaration of beef parts and ages

Until now, beef importers have to declare their beef shipment to the customs office to clarify whether it contains bone, whether it is the whole trunk or half the trunk, and whether it is frozen or refrigerated. There have been no criteria for cattle’s age.

However, importers will now be required to fill out import declaration sheets according to such categories as frozen ribs, cattle heads, intestines and backbones, which are posted by the head of the KCS. They also have to identify whether or not their beef cuts processed from cattle younger than 30 months.

Specified risk materials (brains, eyes, skulls and spinal chords) and possible SRMs such as heads, intestines, tongues and backbones should be cleared separately from other parts. This is to prevent those materials from being mixed with lean meats for distribution, from their entry into the country.

○ Importers defying voluntary restrictions to be supervised

The customs agency will also launch special supervision over local importers that do not comply with the voluntary restrictions agreed upon by Korea and the United States at the additional beef negotiation. Those companies must have the whole shipment inspected, and inspectors will visit them to investigate further details. To ferret out possible mislabeling -- for example, falsely labeling U.S. beef as Mexican beef -- customs officials will cross-check the content against the records in the U.S. customs office.

Sohn Byeong-jo, deputy chief of the KCS, said, “We are consulting with the Ministry of Knowledge Economy on whether to disclose a list of the importers refusing the voluntary restrictions.”

○ Tracking from U.S. slaughterhouses to local butchers

The agency plans to operate a system that can track imported beef even after it enters the local market. It will run the tracking system selectively, based on the ages and parts specified on the import declaration sheets. The controversial cattle heads, intestines, tongues and backbones will be traced first.

With this system in place, officials can track imported beef through the entire domestic distribution route, which includes overseas slaughter houses, exporters, local importers, middle distributors, retailers, restaurants and butchers. In other words, the government will be able to identify which importers provide which restaurants with imported beef.

As another measure to enforce the country-of-origin rule, the agency will introduce a sort of “beef paparazzi” system under which the agency will give citizens who report labeling law violators a cash reward of up to 30 million won.

○ New rules to take effect on newly-imported beef

These new measures will be applied to beef imported after the posting of the new import guidelines. Therefore, 5,300 tons of U.S. beef, which has been stranded at local warehouses since bone fragments were discovered, will not be included.

However, it will take time for the new tracking system to be effective. According to the agency, 80 percent of imported beef goes directly to large discount stores. But 20 percent of beef imported by some 900 small importers goes to small supermarkets and butchers. This means it is not an easy task to track all beef.

“The agency will give beef importers ID numbers and encourage them to key in the detailed information on their shipment,” said the agency’s deputy chief.