BSE fact-finding team leaves for US on doubtful mission
By Kim Tae-gyu
A team of nine Korean investigators left for the United States, Monday, on a fact-finding mission with regard to the safety of American beef in connection with a recent reported case of mad cow disease.
But doubts about what this team can do and suspicions that its role is to allay anti-U.S. beef sentiment has overshadowed the team's 10-day mission. So far, they are not allowed to visit the farm where the first U.S. case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was uncovered in six years.
The team, however, is hoping to achieve this.
``On top of the Department of Agriculture and other facilities such as rendering firms, we are still negotiating to take a closer look at the Californian farm,’’ a Korean official said.
``We learned that U.S. farmers don’t want us on their private lands, possibly concerned about their image taint. But we plan to try to attain our goal.’’
If the team is not allowed to visit the farm on its itinerary through May 9, it has a plan B _ it hopes to meet the farmers in other places in order to question them and check detailed data.
``It would be best to be on the farm at issue so that we can check conditions of other animals there. But if we can’t do so, we will attempt to meet its owner and farmers to learn detailed information,’’ the official said.
However, the team is unlikely to make a major breakthrough since the dairy cow that contracted BSE has already been euthanized and brain tissue samples are unavailable.
In addition, the neutrality of the team has been suspected because most are government officials with just a single representative from a civic group.
Because the Californian cow did not enter the supply chain and it developed ``atypical’’ BSE from a random mutation, which experts sometimes discover in old cows, Korea is not likely to follow the suit of Indonesia or Thailand.
The two countries temporarily stopped U.S. beef products from circulating in the aftermath of the outbreak. But major importers Canada, Japan, Mexico and South Korea haven’t taken such measures, yet.
The import of U.S. beef products were prohibited by the Seoul administration in the early and mid 2000s after a BSE case was reported in the U.S.
After a years-long ban, Korea resumed imports in the hope of winning U.S. congressional approval for a free trade agreement between the two allies.
To deal with rising concerns on mad cow disease, however, Seoul only accepted U.S. beef from cattle aged less than 30 months since the lethal disease is typically seen in older animals.
BSE can trigger human variant Cruetzfeldt-Jakob-Disease (vCJD), a fatal human brain disorder.
vCJD was first detected in 1995 in the United Kingdom and has claimed many lives worldwide. Koreans’ worries about U.S. beef are mostly about contracting vCJD no matter how remote the possibility.