U.S., S. Korea reach agreement on beef trade

by Bryan Salvage
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After more than four years of trade negotiations, the U.S. and South Korea have finally reached an agreement to allow U.S. beef imports into the country. Imports are anticipated to begin in mid-May and then further expand in phases.

Seoul will allow American beef imports from cattle younger than 30 months, including cuts with bones. Beef from older cattle will also be cleared for imports after the U.S. strengthens controls on feed to reduce chances of infection, South Korea's Agriculture Ministry said.

U.S. negotiators were commended by the American Meat Institute for their efforts in communicating the many safeguards that are in place that make U.S. beef among the safest in the world. "Resumption of trade is a long overdue but very welcome development," said J. Patrick Boyle, A.M.I. president. "The facts clearly demonstrate U.S. beef safety. We are gratified that now consumers in Korea will soon have access to our products."

In 2003, trade with South Korea
― the third largest market for U.S. beef ― came to an abrupt halt after the U.S. announced its first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in an imported cow. An enhanced surveillance program was then initiated by the U.S. to prevent any more cases in the U.S. Approximately 750,000 tests have been conducted during the enhanced surveillance program and only two more cases were found. This led U.S. officials to conclude that the risk of B.S.E. in the U.S. is so low that it is nearly incalculable.

Restricted imports resumed in April 2007, but have been on hold since October after a shipment containing banned beef parts was delivered from the U.S. to Korea.

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