SKorea Retailers Halt US Beef Sales Over Mad Cow
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - Two major South Korean retailers pulled U.S. beef from their stores Wednesday following the discovery of mad cow disease in a U.S. dairy cow. Reaction elsewhere in Asia was muted with Japan saying there’s no reason to restrict imports.
South Korea’s No. 2 and No. 3 supermarket chains, Home Plus and Lotte Mart, said they halted sales of U.S. beef to calm worries among South Koreans. But within hours, Home Plus had resumed sales and cited a government announcement of increased inspections. Lotte kept its suspension in place.
"We stopped sales from today," said Chung Won-hun, a Lotte Mart spokesman. "Not that there were any quality issues in the meat but because consumers were worried."
South Korea is the world’s fourth-largest importer of U.S. beef, buying 107,000 tons of the meat worth $563 million in 2011.
The new case of mad cow disease is the first in the U.S. since 2006. It was discovered in a dairy cow in California, but health authorities said Tuesday the animal was never a threat to the nation’s food supply.
Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is fatal to cows and can cause a deadly human brain disease in people who eat tainted beef. U.S. authorities said the dead California cow had what scientists call an atypical case of BSE, meaning that a random mutation in the animal rather than infected cattle feed was the cause.
The infected cow, the fourth ever discovered in the U.S., was found as part of an Agriculture Department surveillance program that tests about 40,000 cows a year for the disease.
The news spread quickly in South Korea, which imposed a ban on U.S. beef in 2003 along with China and other countries because of mad cow disease concerns. Seoul’s resumption of U.S. beef imports in 2008 sparked daily candlelight vigils and street protests for several months as many South Koreans still regarded the meat as a public health risk.
South Korea imports U.S. beef from cows less than 30 months old and there is no direct link between U.S. beef imported into South Korea and the infected animal, the country’s agriculture ministry said in a statement. The infected U.S. cow was older than 30 months.
But the ministry decided to step up inspections of U.S. beef and request detailed information on the case from the United States - initial measures to appease public concern while avoiding possible trade conflicts.
"We are still reviewing whether we will stop quarantine inspections," Chang Jae-hong, deputy director of the ministry’s quarantine policy division, told The Associated Press by telephone.
Halting quarantine inspections would prevent U.S. beef from being delivered to stores as it couldn’t clear customs.