The National Assembly's Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Committee on Tuesday adopted a resolution calling on the Lee Myung-bak government to halt quarantine inspections on U.S. beef following a case of mad cow disease in California.
The resolution signed by both ruling and opposition party lawmakers during a committee meeting urged the Lee administration to immediately suspend quarantine checks for American beef imports, "until the safety of U.S. beef products are ascertained."
It also demanded that the Import Health Requirements for U.S. Beef and Beef Products, signed by Seoul and Washington in 2008, be revised to better ensure safety and health of local consumers of American beef.
Attending the committee meeting, however, Agriculture Minister Suh Kyu-yong reconfirmed the government's position to continue U.S. beef imports with strengthened quarantine checks.
"The government's recent decision to raise the ratio of U.S. beef quarantine inspections from 3 percent to 50 percent was not caused by safety problem (involving U.S. beef). The measure was rather intended to heighten public safety assurances," Suh said.
"There is no safety problem (with U.S. beef). None of the world's 117 countries importing U.S. beef have imposed an import ban thus far." the minister said, rejecting lawmakers' request for import or quarantine suspension.
Without quarantine inspections, beef imports can't be distributed to the domestic market, which in effect serves as an import ban.
Since the outbreak of the first mad cow case in six years in the U.S., the Lee government has been under pressure to halt imports. But the government decided to continue imports with strengthened quarantine checks, saying the latest case involving a dairy cow is not directly connected to beef that can be shipped to the country.
American beef imports have long been a politically sensitive issue in South Korea.
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 President 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.
South Korea only imports beef from animals younger than 30 months with all "specified risk materials" removed. Those materials are the parts considered capable of transmitting the variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease to humans.