South Korea, U.S. may hold talks next week on beef imports
SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea and the United States may hold talks as early as next week on resuming imports of U.S. beef, a South Korean Agriculture and Forestry Ministry official said Monday.South Korean officials have been in discussions with the U.S. on holding the talks either Jan. 9-10 or Jan. 12-13 but nothing has been set yet, a ministry official told The Associated Press, requesting anonymity because the details have not been worked out.The U.S. Embassy in Seoul was closed Monday for the holiday.South Korea banned U.S. beef imports in December 2003 after a Holstein cow in Washington state tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease. South Korea has so far rebuffed repeated U.S. requests to end the ban, citing health and safety concerns.Last month, a ministry advisory committee said that U.S. beef could be considered safe to consume if tougher inspection and quarantine measures were taken. The committee also said there were no decisive grounds to say U.S. beef wasn’t safe.Japan, which had a similar ban, eased its prohibition on U.S. and Canadian beef last month after two years of negotiations and a lengthy approval process.South Korea had been the third-largest market for U.S. beef exports before imposing its ban. In 2002, the country imported 213,000 tons of U.S. beef worth US$610 million (euro516 million), according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.Australia and New Zealand are currently the leading beef exporters to South Korea.Scientists believe mad cow disease is spread when farmers feed cattle with recycled meat and bones from infected animals. It is thought to cause the fatal human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.