- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2008

SEOUL - South Korea’s government announced yesterday it is going ahead with a much-criticized deal to resume imports of U.S. beef, while thousands of protesters took to the streets to denounce the move.

Agriculture Minister Chung Woon-chun said in a nationally televised announcement that the government has finalized new quarantine regulations for U.S. beef in accordance with an April 18 agreement with Washington.

The new regulations call for South Korea to import nearly all cuts of American beef without restrictions on the age of the cattle. That represents a significant easing of previous rules, which banned imports of meat attached to bones or from older cattle considered more susceptible to mad cow disease.

The relaxed rules will take effect as soon as they are published in a government journal in a few days.

Yesterday’s announcement, which had been delayed amid daily anti-government protests, was the final administrative step necessary to resume U.S. beef imports.

It cleared the way for American beef to return to South Korean store shelves for the first time since last year, when limited imports were briefly allowed before again being suspended.

Some 5,300 tons of U.S. beef, shipped earlier to South Korea but held in customs and quarantine storage facilities, will begin undergoing inspections early next week before being put on the market, according to the ministry.

Mr. Chung sought to dispel public concern over mad cow disease, saying the government would immediately halt imports if a new case of the illness breaks out in the United States, and would strictly control cattle parts banned over the disease.

“The government will protect the people’s health and food safety by thoroughly managing the inspection and distribution of U.S. beef,” he said.

Protesters who have held a series of rallies in Seoul for the past month say the accord does not adequately protect the country from infected beef.

South Korea suspended imports of U.S. beef after the first American case of mad cow disease appeared in December 2003.

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