Two of South Korea’s biggest retailers have suspended sales of US beef after a case of mad cow disease was discovered in California.
Home Plus and Lotte Mart, South Korea’s second- and third-largest supermarket chains, temporarily halted sales at their outlets after a dairy cow was found infected with the disease on Tuesday, Fox News reports.
“We stopped sales from today [Wednesday],” said Chung Won-un, a Lotte Mart spokesman. “Not that there were any quality issues in the meat, but because consumers were worried.”
Home Plus, a subsidiary of UK firm Tesco, has taken similar steps.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed the mad cow disease case yesterday, the country’s first since 2006, Al Jazeera reports.
However, John Clifford, chief veterinary officer for USDA, sought to allay concerns, saying “there is really no cause for alarm here with regard to this animal” and promising that the cow had not entered the food supply chain.
South Korean authorities said Wednesday that they plan to step up checks on beef imports from the US, with an official at the ministry for food, agriculture, forestry and fisheries in Seoul telling the BBC:
“We are gathering all the information regarding the mad cow disease and are evaluating how to respond to the situation.”
However, the official said the ministry had not made a decision on whether to suspend US beef imports:
“If we take any measure, it would be made public within a day.”
US beef has become a highly contentious issue in South Korea in recent years. Seoul’s decision in 2008 to lift a ban on beef imports in place since a mad cow case was discovered in 2003 sparked weeks of massive street protests, which took on anti-government overtones, according to the Agence France Presse.
They faded away after the government undertook to restrict imports from cattle viewed as more susceptible to the disease.
In 2010, South Korea imported 125,000 tons of U.S. beef, a 97% increase from the year before, CNN reports.
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