WASHINGTON (Yonhap News) ― South Korea and the United States began on-site consultations Tuesday on the latest case of mad cow disease here.
A team of eight South Korean government officials and civilian experts arrived in Washington Monday for discussions with U.S. authorities and inspections of related facilities.
Their visit comes amid unrelenting public concern over the safety of American beef in South Korea. The Seoul government has faced political pressure to suspend imports of U.S. beef.
In its first activity on a 10-day mission, the delegation visited the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in Maryland.
“The U.S. side sincerely replied to our inquiries. (We) will submit a report on the contents of today’s discussions (to the South Korean government),” Joo E-suk, head of the inspection team, told reporters.
Joo, who is in charge of quarantine affairs at South Korea’s farm ministry, had consultations with Dr. John Clifford, the USDA’s chief veterinarian.
The group is scheduled to fly to Iowa later in the day for meetings with officials at the National Veterinary Services Laboratories.
The South Korean delegates requested a visit to the dairy farm in central California where an elderly animal was confirmed to be infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy in late April.
But the farm owner refused, a source said. The team instead plans to visit nearby farms to check a fodder system.
South Korea is the world’s fourth-largest importer of American beef.
Seoul banned imports of U.S. beef in 2003 after a mad cow case surfaced. In 2008, the Lee Myung-bak administration, seeking to move forward a free trade agreement with the U.S., decided to resume U.S. beef imports from cattle younger than 30 months.
It sparked weeks of massive public protests and Lee was forced to offer a public apology for ignoring public opinion.
The latest animal to test positive for BSE was 10 years and 7 months old and was never presented for slaughter, according to U.S. officials.
“The Republic of Korea is an important partner and we welcome the opportunity to share information about the effective system we have in place for safeguarding against the risks posed by BSE,” Matt Herrick, a communications official at the USDA, told Yonhap News Agency.
He insisted on the safety of U.S. beef and the credibility of a quarantine system.
“The health of our public and consumers is protected through a series of effective interlocking safeguards ― including the removal of all risk materials, a stringent feed ban, and an effective herd surveillance program ― that were proven effective by this detection,” he said.
He added, “The United States remains confident in the safety of U.S. beef and dairy products and USDA will continue to provide relevant information to our public and trading partners as it becomes available.”