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US Beef Imports in South Korea

South Korea by 2003 was one of the three biggest consumers of US beef. (Song) In the same year, South Korea decided to impose a ban on United States beef imports after an outbreak of the mad cow disease was reported in the United States. The spotted disease according to Columbus, (126) was the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy disease (BSE). During this time, South Korea had imported beef worth about 8000 million dollars. The ban heavily impacted on the American beef business and a solution to the problem had to be found.

After some talks with the South Korean president were held, the ban was to be lifted on May 15th but due to protests that resulted the ban was delayed but the protests were not without a cause. Is the ban on US beef importation to South Korea supposed to be lifted? This is what basically this research paper will focus on. (Columbus 126) It is in a bid to strengthen the relationship between the United States and South Korea that the president, Lee Myung-bak decided to partially lift the ban on US beef meat importation to South Korea.

He did not consider that US had already been established as the host of the deadly disease, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) by the World Organization for Animal Health. (Columbus 97) Although Lee had won with a landslide, his fame sharply declined soon after he expressed his intention to lift the ban. Angry South Koreans engaged the riot police in running battles by protesting in the streets at Seoul.

This was something that had not been witnessed for the last 20 years in the history of South Korea but it is obvious there were very good reasons behind this. (Ahn) One reason why South Koreans decided to march in the streets was because they knew the health risks that their president was subjecting them to. According to the surveys that had been done on the said disease, cows that are more than thirty months old are more prone to be attacked by the disease than those that are below this age. (Columbus F.

95) For this reason, the beef trade relations were revised after some negotiations were held and it was agreed that United States should resume exporting its beef meat to South Korea on condition that no meat of a cow that is beyond thirty months old would be exported. The argument was that the disease hides itself in the fully developed bones and a cow of less than 30 months does not have these bones therefore it is less vulnerable to the disease. (Columbus 99) When it comes to issues that affect the entire population’s health, everything should be addressed properly.

So the few people who directed the president to lift the ban misled him as there were some serious repercussions that they could not see. The public health is a very delicate issue and should be approached with utter care. To put the lives of millions of people at stake in the name of boosting the relationship between countries is misguided and inappropriate. (Knight 532) President Lee failed to see the reason why the ban on US beef meat had lasted for all those years since it was imposed back in 2003. May be he was not aware of the risk magnitude.

(CNN, 2008) It should not be seen as if South Korea is not willing to have trade relations with the United States especially on beef meat but the reason for the protest is that Washington is not taking proper steps to ensure South Koreans who are one of its biggest beef consumers that their beef is safe from the mad cow disease. “South Korea was the third largest importer of US beef until it suspended its imports in 2003, after an outbreak of mad cow disease. The country lifted the ban in 2006 but reinstated it in last October after some of banned parts were found in US shipments.

” (Jung-a Song) People who are outside South Korea view the move as an anti Americanism but this is not the case though there might be some historical backgrounds. The mad cow disease has very serious health consequences. Eating the infected meat has been attributed to be the cause of the variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease which is a rare and very deadly disease. (CNN 2008) The reason why South Koreans are standing firm against the lifting of the ban is that United States is not inspecting the cows properly before they are slaughtered.

According to the US Department of agriculture (USDA), only one out of thirty seven million cattle is tested for the disease. Annually, this translates to 40,000 out of thirty seven million cows whereas in Japan, every cow is examined. In Europe one in every four cows is tested for the disease and in Canada, for every 250 cows one is tested. The same should apply to US; more cows should be tested to ensure that beef meat is safe. If this is not done, then s South Koreans will continue to protest if the ban is lifted (Chae-Jin 155)

Another reason why South Korea should not lift the ban is the fact that US beef is cheaper than that of South Korea and this contributes to the stagnation in the growth of the local beef industries. The government should do something to protect its local industries from being killed by those of the foreigners and this can only be done by either keeping the ban on the importation of beef meat or imposing a very high importation tax so as to discourage the importation of beef meat. (Knight 533) Many South Koreans go for the cheaper beef in the market but the truth is that the imported beef is cheaper.

The local beef is a bit expensive and thus many people do not buy it more than they buy the imported one. It is obvious that when a certain company’s products are not in demand, the company definitely crumbles. In order to protect and promote the growth of the local industries, South Korean government should not succumb to US pressure to lift the ban. (Chae-Jin 142) There are a lot of people who depend on the beef industry ranging from farmers to the industry workers and so they should be protected and especially the farmers who rear the beef cattle.

When cheaper beef meat is imported from US nobody buys their cattle and yet they rely on it after all, it is human to go for cheaper products. (Chae-Jin 142) Most of the restaurants in South Korea are flocked with people demanding beef meat. If the disease is to strike the country then the victims would be in millions and this is the time the government would realize the risk involved. (Columbus 126) It is true that the disease had been reported in US so the issue of importing beef meat should not be taken lightly. It is better to be safe than sorry.

People do not need to die for the government to measure the harm that would be caused by eating such meat. (Knight 535) In as much as South Korea would like to enhance its relationship with US, this cannot be done at the cost of the people’s lives. The government of US has been very reluctant to address this issue properly for example; the US congress has not even passed the bill against the slaughtering of downed animals. It has been reported that animals that cannot even walk are dragged into slaughtering houses.

Not that the US government is unable to test all its animals before they are slaughtered but the truth is that it is not willing to do so and this confirms the fears that sick animals might be slaughtered and thus South Korean should worry about their health. For example, Creek stone Farms were prosecuted by the US Department of Agriculture for testing all animals against mad cow disease before they are slaughtered. The case was heard in the federal court in 2008 where they won but the decision was later reversed by Bush’s administration so that all the beef in the market would be marked as BSE free.

The beef should not be marked as disease free if it is not tested. (Ahn) Again US has shown South Korea that the contract that was signed between the two nations that only boneless cows of not more than 30 months would be imported was not binding as it was breached when some of the banned part of the beef were discovered in the shipments(Chae-Jin 147). If this happened soon after the agreement was signed, then there is no guarantee that the same will not happen after the ban is lifted. “Last year, when South Korea partially lifted its ban to allow boneless beef and beef from cattle under aged 30 months, the first three shipments of U.

S. beef to Korea contained bone fragments, including one shipment that contained an entire spine. ” (Ahn C) On the other side, some people say that the ban on US beef importation is unnecessary as no body has ever been affected by this meat. It is the media that took this issue to out of proportion by giving false information about the presence of mad cow disease in the American beef for example MBC channel in a program dubbed as PD Notebook in a discussion about BSE, a virgin woman, Aretha Vinson was said to have died from this disease although the claims had no foundation. (Chae-Jin 147)

According to Chae-Jin Lee (156), another question that casts doubt to the claims that US exports infected beef meat to South Korea is whether they first select the beef to be exported from the sick cows because it is the same meat that is eaten by the Americans and yet nobody has ever been reported to have died. It is only that South Koreans are being more paranoid. Only a single case that led to the imposition of this ban back in 2003, if the disease is still there its effects would have been seen on the Americans who have been eating the same beef for all those years since the ban was imposed.

People should have been reported to have died of the disease since 2003 but none has ever been reported. (Chae-Jin 159), In short, the move to lift the ban was inconsequential, untimely and was a total disregard to the rights of the entire South Korean population. Before any move to lift the ban on importation of US beef is made, proper strategies to ensure that the meat is free from diseases should be taken. Again the wish of South Koreans should be respected as it’s a democratic principle to respect the decision of the people.

Their wish should be respected and in this case, it is to delay the lifting of the ban until all the cattle are inspected before they are slaughtered. It is because their will was ignored that they protested. So the move was not due to political reasons but was a way of people expressing their discontentment with the government’s move to lift the ban on beef importation. All these things that have been mentioned should be properly addressed before the ban on beef importation is lifted.

Works Cited.

Ahn C. South Korea’s Beef with America. 13th June, 2008. Accessed at http://www. fpif. org/fpiftxt/5298Cable News Network (CNN) South Korea to Impose Tough Inspections of U. S. Beef. 23rd June, 2008. Available at http://edition. cnn. com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/06/23/skorea. beef/index. html Columbus F. Asian Economic and Political Issues. Vol. II. Nova Publications, 1998. Chae-Jin L. A troubled Peace: US Policy and the Two Koreas. 2006. United States, JHU Press. Knight, R. Linking Research and Marketing Opportunities for Pulses in the 21st Century. Springer, 2000. Song J. South Korea removes ban on US beef. 30th May 2008. Available at http://www. ft. com/cms/s/0/ad4d88b0-2dd3-11dd-b92a- 000077b07658. html? nclick_check=1

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