SEOUL, South Korea - 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.
Packages of beef imported from the U.S. are displayed for sale at a supermarket in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday, April 25, 2012. (Bloomberg)
“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.
At a Home Plus store in southwestern Seoul, some shoppers said they were not worried about U.S. beef as long as officials had said there were no health risks.
But others criticized the U.S. government as “arrogant’’ and “inconsiderate’’ in asserting that the discovery of an infected cow would have no impact on its meat exports.
“I won’t eat meat from the countries where mad cow disease was found,’’ said Kim Woo-sig, a self employed 47-year-old.
Home Plus said its decision to resume sales does not mean it will purchase additional meat from the U.S.
“It usually takes 40 to 50 days to ship beef from the U.S. to Korea. As we have some time, we will see how things go before we decide about future purchases,’’ said Kang Young-il, a general manager at Home Plus, which is a unit of Britian’s Tesco Plc. In Japan, officials said the country’s import policy was unchanged.
Japan, the world’s third-largest consumer of U.S. beef and veal, restricts its imports of U.S. beef to cows of 20 months or younger.
“There is no need for change,’’ in Japan’s import rules, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters.
But the latest mad cow case may jeopardize moves to expand American beef sales in Taiwan, where the government recently sparked protests by allowing sales of U.S. beef containing ractopamine, a growth additive.
Taiwan’s legislature on Wednesday indefinitely postponed a planned discussion on U.S. beef imports. It is likely the government engineered the delay, fearing that the opposition would stoke sentiment against U.S. beef.
There was no immediate response from China’s government. Beijing no longer has an outright ban on U.S. beef but exporters have been unable to overcome continued barriers involving inspection of the meat.
Hong Kong’s food safety regulator said it was staying in close contact with U.S. authorities who had confirmed the cow was not slaughtered for human consumption. (AP)
<관련 한글 기사>
국내 대형마트”美쇠고기 판매 한시적 중단”
소비자들의 불안심리를 반영한 국내 대형 마트들이 미국산 쇠고기제품 판매 중단에 나섰다.
홈플러스와 롯데마트는 미국에서 '광우병'이 발병함에 따라 미국산 수입 쇠고기 제품에 대한 판매를 이날부터 한시적으로 중단한다고 25일 밝혔다.
롯데마트의 한 관계자는 “지금까지 수입된 제품은 정상적인 검역을 받았기 때문에 문제는 없다”면서도 “그러나 소비자들이 불안해하기 때문에 당분간 판매를 보류한다”고 설명했다.
홈플러스도 소비자들의 불안을 고려해 판매를 한시적으로 중단한다.
이마트는 정부의 대응 등을 지켜보면서 판매 보류 등 방침을 결정하기로 했다.
롯데슈퍼 등 미국산 쇠고기를 취급하는 기업형슈퍼마켓(SSM) 들도 대응책을 마련하기로 했다.
롯데백화점도 이날부터 미국산 쇠고기 판매를 당분간 중단하기로 했다.
롯데백화점은 “미국산 쇠고기는 전체 쇠고기의 1% 수준으로 미미하다”고 말했다.
현대•신세계백화점은 미국산 쇠고기를 취급하지 않고 있다.
미국 농무부는 24일(현지시간) 캘리포니아주(州) 중부지방 목장에서 사육된 젖소 한 마리에서 광우병으로 알려진 소 해면상뇌증(BSE)이 확인됐다고 밝혔다.
이러한 사실이 알려지면서 우리나라 정부도 미국산 쇠고기에 대한 통관 절차를 중단할 것이라고 블룸버그통신이 보도했다. (코리아헤럴드)