Korea has no plans to suspend quarantine inspections on U.S. beef, Agriculture Minister Suh Kyu-yong said Friday, despite high public concern after a dairy cow in California was found infected with mad cow disease.
A report from Washington confirmed that the infected animal was a dairy cow over 10 years old and that it had contracted a very rare “atypical” form of the brain-wasting disease, Suh told reporters during his visit to a quarantine facility in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province.
The minister said the report showed that the animal did not get sick by consuming protein-based feed and died before entering the food chain.
“There are no reasons for us to stop quarantine checks,” he said, brushing off the demand by some politicians.
Seoul raised the rate of U.S. beef packages opened for quarantine inspection from 30 percent to 50 percent starting Friday, a day after it was increased from 10 percent.
The government is also considering sending a team of epidemiologic investigators to the U.S.
The Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said it received a reply from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the set of inquiries it sent on the details of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy outbreak.
The ministry had asked the age of the cow that was infected with BSE, the place of infection and how the outbreak was discovered in a 12-point letter of inquiry.
The USDA’s five-page reply, which was faxed Friday morning, did not cover all of the information Seoul had demanded, according to Yeo In-hong, chief of the ministry’s food industry policy.
“Regardless of the reliability of the information we received, we think it would be right to go and see with our own eyes to assure consumers,” Yeo said in a press conference Friday.
“We requested the U.S. government’s cooperation should we send the inspection team.”
The ministry is reviewing a plan to have civic group members and nongovernmental experts on the inspection team.
If dispatched, they will visit the rendering plant, the farm where the infected dairy cow was raised, the facility where its carcass was destroyed and the USDA.
In response to concerns that only limited information will be available for the Korean team as the U.S. will already have destroyed the carcass of the infected cow, Yeo said Seoul could ask for the cow’s tissue samples.
“We will conduct a scientific probe on the place where the BSE outbreak occurred. We can request for tissue samples if necessary,” he said.
“The World Organization for Animal Health is currently studying tissue samples from the dead cow.”
The ministry said a BSE taskforce will check into the beef supply and demand, negotiations with the U.S. and developments in other countries, and hold daily press briefings.
The ministry also said it will bolster the beef origin-labeling policy as well as quarantine and inspections to prevent American beef from being disguised as Australian or Korean.
By Kim So-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)