Posted : 2012-04-30 18:10
Updated : 2012-04-30 18:10

BSE fact-finding team leaves for US on doubtful mission

Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Director General Joo Yi-seok, center, who is heading a nine-member inspection
team visiting the United States to look into a mad cow disease case, before taking a flight from Incheon International Airport, Monday. Korea Times photo by Kim Ju-young

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.
관련 한글 기사

한국 조사단 그라운드 제로 방문할까?

미국 광우병 민관 역학조사단이 30일 미국으로 떠났다. 주이석 농림수산검역검사본부 동물방역부장을 단장으로 학계와 소비자단체 총 9명으로 구성되었다.

이들은 미국 현지에서 광우병 발생 상황과 역학조사, 사료의 안전 실태 등을 조사한 뒤 5월 9일 귀국할 예정이지만 농장방문 일정이 잡혀있지 않아 실효성에 의문이 제기되고 있다.

하지만 정부 관계자는 미국 정부와 계속 캘리포니아 농장을 방문하는 문제로 협의하고 있다고 밝혔다. 직접 주변 동물들이나 사료일지, 병력 등을 둘러 본다는 게 조사단의 목적이라는 것이다.

그 관계자는 “최악의 경우 해당 농장주를 제 3의 지역에서 만나는 것을 목표로 하고 있다”라고 밝혔다.

미국 농무부는 개인정보 보호와 사유재산권 보호 문제 때문에 농장주의 동의를 받고 있지 못하는 것으로 알려졌다.

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