South Korea's ruling party chief Park Geun-hye on Friday urged the government to halt quarantine inspections of American beef until it was confirmed safe for consumption, as the government continued to receive flaks over its decision to allow imports despite the detection of a new mad cow case in the United States.
Quarantine inspections are a key requirement for U.S. beef shipments for getting customs clearance. Halting the process would therefore have the same effect as suspending imports because shipments would not be cleared to reach the local market even if they arrive at the country's ports, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.
The remarks by Park, a leading presidential hopeful, increased pressure on the government of President Lee Myung-bak which has come under severe criticism for deciding to continue imports of U.S. beef with strengthened quarantine inspections despite the recent confirmation of a case of mad cow disease in the U.S.
Government officials maintain that the current situation does not warrant an allout halt of quarantine inspections as the latest case involving a dairy cow in California is not directly connected to beef that comes under South Korea's import regulations. However, Public and political criticism of the government are mounting on the issue.
"I think the government should halt quarantine inspections until we get definite information convincing enough to the people through epidemiological investigation, and should suspend imports altogether if a final analysis shows there is even a slight problem with safety," Park said during a visit to the south-eastern city of Masan.
He said the government should not give the public the wrong perception that it was more interested in avoiding trade friction with the United States than in the health and safety of its people. "I don't know how long it will be (before an investigation into the latest mad cow case is completed), but wouldn't people be worried during that period?" Park said. "Therefore, it would be desirable to first halt quarantine inspections."
South Korea resumed U.S. beef imports in 2008 after a five-year ban. The decision sparked months of anti-government rallies, seriously rocking the then fledgling government of Lee amid public perception his government endangered public health to curry favor with the U.S. The government stressed at the time that the decision was based on scientific grounds.
This week, Opposition parties and other critics have accused the government of going back on a 2008 promise to immediately ban imports in the event of a new mad cow outbreak in the U.S. The government had promised to immediately halt imports, scrutinize all shipments already in the country, send an inspection team to the U.S. and suspend serving beef at schools and military units if a fresh mad cow case occurred.
The main Opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) stepped up its attack on the government. "The government should immediately halt U.S. beef imports and start renegotiations to restore our quarantine sovereignty," DUP leader Moon Sung-keun said, accusing the government of lying to the public.
Earlier on Friday, Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik said the government would swiftly inform the public of all information on the latest incident of mad cow disease in the United States and take all necessary steps. He said the government would handle the issue based on "scientific and reasonable grounds," stressing that the latest case was discovered in a dairy cow older than 30 months.
by RTT Staff Writer
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