South Korea Halts Customs Clearance of U.S. Beef

S. Korea to Halt Customs Clearance of U.S. Beef on Mad Cow
A customer orders beef imported from Austraila while packages of U.S. beef, left, are displayed at a supermarket in Seoul. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

South Korea will halt customs clearance of U.S. beef imports after the first U.S. case of mad cow disease in six years was found in a dairy cow in central California, an agriculture ministry official said.

The government will release details of inspections “soon,” Park Sang Ho, an official at South Korea’s agricultural ministry, said by phone. The agriculture office shortly after issued a statement saying it will take the “necessary measures.”

South Korea, once the third-largest buyer of U.S. beef, began restricting shipments in 2003, following the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow, in the U.S. herd. The Asian country resumed imports of the meat from cattle younger than 30 months of age in June 2008. This is the fourth BSE case found in the U.S. herd , and the first since March 2006.

“It’s a pressing matter because we are concerned consumers will shy away from U.S. beef,” Choi Jong Sun, chairman of the Korea Meat Importers’ Association, said today by phone from Seoul. “The concern about mad cow has faded over the past few years. We are closely watching the impact on demand and what the government will do.”

The cow was identified as part of routine testing for the brain-wasting disease, John Clifford, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief veterinarian, said yesterday. It was discovered before it entered the human food chain and posed any threat to consumers, Clifford said.

Futures Rebound

Cattle futures rebounded after tumbling by the exchange limit yesterday. Futures for June delivery climbed 0.3 percent to $1.11925 a pound on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange at 12:13 p.m. Tokyo time. Futures fell 2.6 percent to settle at $1.11575 a pound yesterday to the lowest level since July 1 and the biggest percentage drop on a most-active contract since May 23.

Harim Co., a maker of canned chicken breasts and nuggets, rose 4.8 percent and Dong Won Fisheries Co., a deep-sea fishing company, gained 9 percent in Seoul trading on speculation demand for poultry and seafood will increase after the new U.S. mad cow case.

“The agricultural ministry is studying the case and considering what actions will be taken for the U.S. beef imports,” South Korea’s Finance Minister Bahk Jae Wan told reporters in Seoul today. “Possible steps may include halting the customs clearance.”

Japan, Taiwan

South Korea’s move comes even as Japan said it won’t suspend imports, according to Minoru Yamamoto, director at the ministry’s international animal health affairs office. Taiwan will maintain its curbs on beef from countries that have reported mad-cow disease, Council of Agriculture Chief Secretary Tai Yu-yen said today.

Baker Commodities Inc. said the case was at its Hanford deadstock plant, where dead livestock are held before going to a rendering plant. The animal arrived at the plant April 18 and all test samples are sent to the University of California at Davis, Dennis Luckey, executive vice president of operations at Los Angeles-based Baker, said in a phone interview. The animal was at least 30 months old and the disease was discovered as part of random testing conducted to meet USDA quotas, he said.

‘System Working’

The discovery of mad cow disease in California shows that the government’s surveillance system is working, and the U.S. beef and milk supply is safe, Guy Loneragan, an epidemiologist and professor of food safety and public health at Texas Tech University, said on a conference call with reporters organized by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

In 2003, after the first case of the disease, dozens of countries shuttered their doors to U.S. shipments. Losses to livestock producers and meatpackers ranged from $2.5 billion to $3.1 billion annually from 2004 through 2007, according to the International Trade Commission. Nations including Japan and China have maintained some restrictions ever since.


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