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Wednesday,November 20,2019
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Mad Cow Disease Threatens Korea

 

  Ever since a settlement in the beef negotiations between Korea and U.S.A. concluded on April 18, Korea has been thrown into confusion.  There was a drastic damage on Korea's safety because of the increased risk of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE).  The fear of BSE descended upon Korea and this, of course, is affecting Donggukians.  According to a survey of Donggukians, The Post found that they are afraid of eating beef. 

Q1. Do you think BSE could happen to you?
a. I think I could get BSE. (65.3%)
b. I think I will not get BSE. (34.7%)
Q2. Have you ever eaten any beefs after the recent criticism?
a. I eat beefs regardless of whether it is safe or not. (29.6%)
b. I think eating beef is dangerous. (33.7%)
c. I haven't eaten any beefs since the recent criticism. (36.7%)
Q3. Do you trust beef dishes sold in the cafeteria(ex>Sanglokwon, Dongguk Hall) or restaurants near the DGU?
a. I trust all the restaurants. (7%)
b. I only trust beef dishes sold in the cafeteria. (13%)
c. I only trust beef dishes sold in restaurants out of DGU. (2%)
d. I don't trust any of them. (78%)
The results show that BSE concerns DGU.  Let's see what is the problem related to BSE.

What is the Mad Cow Disease(BSE)?
  World Health Organization(WHO) defines BSE as a transmissible, neurodegenerative, fatal brain disease of cattle.  The disease has a long incubation period of four to five years, but ultimately it is fatal for cattle within weeks to months of its onset.  It is believed that the cause of the disease is the feeding of bovine meat and bone meal to cows.  Infected cows show the clinical signs of aggression or nervousness, poor-coordination and difficulty in walking.
  The real problem with BSE is that human beings also could be affected by the disease.  "It is called Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) because of the characteristic spongy degeneration of the brain and its ability to be transmitted," said WHO.  The route of transmission is probably through eating beef.  The symptoms of TSE are similar to cow's ranging from difficulty in walking to death.

Is Korea Free from the Danger of Mad Cow Disease(BSE)?
  After the negotiation on U.S. beef imports, Korea's safety regarding BSE notably has deteriorated.  For advice about the problem, the Post met with Kwon Sung-ku, professor of Food Resource Economics at DGU.
The Post: the U.S. beef imports has raised concerns.  What's your opinion about the negotiations?   
  Kwon: It was 'faulty' rather than 'failure'.  The followings are my chief concerns.  1) Why did the government, all of sudden, agree on importing beef older than 30 months old despite the increased risk? (BSE usually occurred in cows older than 30 months old.)  2) Though a term, removal of Specified Risk Material(SRM), was prescribed, why did the government consent to import beef freely even if BSE would be found?
The Post: What's important is whether the U.S beef is safe or not.  Considering the U.S. manufacture system of beef, are we safe?   
  Kwon: The U.S. has problems with its safety.  They sometimes do not care about safety;  they only care about money.  Manufacturing sets much value on  profit rather than safety, even though they say they will thoroughly inspect the beef.
The Post: So how much are Koreans exposed to the danger of BSE? 
  Kwon: I couldn't give a clear answer to whether genetics affects their resistance to BSE or not.  I think Koreans may have a slightly higher risk because of our traditional foods which use SRM.  Korea may also be more exposed to BSE because of problems in identifying the age of the imported cows.
The Post: How can we solve the problem?  
  Kwon: It should be renegotiated.  The government should nail down a draft which specifically ensures Korean's safety.  For now, we have no choice but to import beef which could be dangerous.  The Beef Tracing System which the government proposes will be a day after the fair.  There's no prevention of BSE since the BSE is not clear even among scientists.  Finally, renegotiation with the U.S. is the only solution that will satisfy the people. 

Pros and Cons of the U.S. Beef Imports
  After the beef negotiation with the U.S., mass rallies were held to object to the continued imports of American beef.  This proves that people's concern about beef is increasing.  As the media spreads the people's fears and candlelight rallies were held nationally, the government began to take steps and argued against the opposition.  Let's see what happened.
1) Opinions of the Opposition
  'michincow.net', one of the supporters of the candlelight rallies was interviewed for their opinions.  One of the co-managers of the web site, nicknamed pickachu, gave the following opinion.  "U.S. beef system is very poor at regulating BSE.  You know, Koreans have a genetic weakness for BSE.  The U.S. beef imports should be banned."  The other co-manager, nicknamed sonyeo, also said "I think the government thinks very little about the people.  They decided to import U.S. beef without asking our opinion.  The negotiation was thrown together at the last minute.  The people in government alone eat U.S. beef if it is delicious and cheap, but we don't want to eat it." 
  'The Citizens Coalition of Objections to BSE' announced its views as follows.  "The unconditional opening of beef imports is an unparalleled tragedy in history.  It gives the people of the U.S.A. the supreme control over the health of Koreans and quarantine, for the benefit of foreign ranchers.  We demand that the government must stop their unconditional beef import policy and recover the authority given to them by the constitution of our country."  Some feel the president Lee Myung-bak should be impeached.

2) Opinions for Importing Beef
  The government responded as follows.  "It is frustrating that the safety problems are emotional and not scientifically based.  In the case of the U.S.A., after taking measures, 'animal feed ban' in 1997, no BSE has been found."  Following their explanation, cows will be imported only if they are raised in a stall which is sanctioned by Korea according to standard of Office International des Epizooties(OIE).  SRM will also be inspected closely in line with domestic inspections.  As for the rumors that 'we could be infected by cow-derived products like a hygienic band, cosmetics and so on.', and '95% of koreans have a genetic weakness for BSE.', the government stated these are just fabrications.  They added, regarding that many students participating in candlelight rallies related to BSE, the sensitive students are being manipulated by a few agitators and these agitators must be treated strictly according to the law.
Conclusion
  In addition to the conflicts between citizen groups and the government, there are many different opinions about U.S. beef imports among netizens and celebrities.  These complaints are expected to continue for a long time.  But that's not too bad.  That means people are interested in demonstrating their opinions, not just winking at the government's misleading our country.  The government should listen to the people's opinions and carefully consider them without calling the opinions 'unfounded' and 'fabrications'.  This is the best solution to solve this difficult situation regarding U.S. beef imports.

Yun Sang-young  letterbee@dongguk.edu

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