Processing Magazine

US, South Korean envoys meet on beef trade

June 16, 2008
The Associated Press is reporting that the chief trade envoys for the United States and South Korea met recently for talks meant to resolve a crisis over the resumption of American beef shipments that has paralyzed South Korea''s pro-U.S. government.

The pair, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon, were attempting to reach a mutual agreement and move forward on the issue at hand.

In Seoul, about 10,000 demonstrators gathered in front of City Hall in the latest of a series of anti-government rallies that have clogged the streets of the capital for more than a month, sparked by fears that U.S. beef might carry mad cow disease. The entire South Korean Cabinet offered this week to resign to quell public outrage.

The Bush administration has floated one possible solution, saying it supports beef packaging labels showing the ages of slaughtered cows.

Kim has said he will try to get Washington to approve measures under which the beef industry would agree voluntarily not to ship meat from cattle older than 30 months, even though a recently settled U.S.-South Korean beef pact would allow such beef. Younger cattle are believed to be less susceptible to mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

American beef processors have said they are willing to label beef shipments bound for South Korea. Tyson Foods Inc., JBS Swift & Co., Cargill Meat Solutions Corp., National Beef Packing Co. and Smithfield Beef Group Inc. say the labels would indicate whether the beef is from cattle under or over 30 months. In a press release, Tyson says that most of the beef shipped by the U.S. processors is from cattle under 30 months.

The Bush administration has said it will not renegotiate the beef deal signed by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and President Bush. The accord was supposed to have settled a major irritant in ties between the allies.

South Korea was the third-largest overseas market for U.S. beef until it banned imports after a case of mad cow disease was detected in 2003, the first of three confirmed cases in the United States.