Gov‘t on alert over anti-US beef rally
By Yi Whan-woo
Civic groups said Friday they will hold a massive candlelight rally in central Seoul on May 2 to protest the government’s decision to continue importing American beef despite a fresh case of mad cow disease in the United States.
The administration, still remembering the public backlash following its 2008 decision to resume U.S. beef imports, is now on high alert. Media reports say some presidential aides have advised President Lee Myung-bak to ban U.S. beef imports, but Cheong Wa Dae has dismissed the reports as being false.
The groups say they will hold a joint rally at Seoul Plaza and launch campaigns on social networking sites to draw participants.
The new outbreak of the disease in the United States this week was the first time since 2006. Civil activists are criticizing the Lee administration, now in its fifth and final year, for continuing U.S. beef imports despite heightened health concerns.
The activists include members of the organization that opposed the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. They are demanding an immediate halt to U.S. beef import as well as a ban on its distribution and sales in local markets.
“We can’t accept the government’s decision not to discontinue imports. U.S. beef as it is not safe from mad cow disease,” an activist said. “We’ve decided to take action to demand the government revise related pacts with Washington on the trade of beef.”
They claim the government’s measure for enhanced quarantine procedures won’t be effective.
“The United States only undergoes examinations for mad cow disease on 0.1 percent of the cows slaughtered for meat,” another member said. “This means there could be a number of U.S. beef products that were infected with mad cow disease. Our quarantine system is far from being perfect.”
The government said Thursday it would continue to allow customs clearance on U.S. meat and its sales in the local market, triggering public concerns.
Lotte Mart is the only supermarket chain that decided to stop selling U.S. beef. Other retailers said they would wait until the government comes up with specific measures.
The main purchasers of U.S. beef are restaurants, schools and the military. Civic activists are claiming that consumers should be protected from the risk of mad cow disease.
“Students and soldiers are exposed as they have to eat what they are given by their schools or units, and this is just ridiculous,” another activist said.
The Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said it will closely follow the situation in the United States to take appropriate measures.
“We’ll set up an emergency taskforce to collect related information on this matter,” an official said.
He said, however, the government wasn’t taking seriouslythe demand for any revision on the trade pact with the United States.
“Other U.S. beef importers like Indonesia are in a similar situation with Korea, and it’s inappropriate to discuss the revision only because of the mad cow disease case.”