The Korea Times
By Kim Yon-se
U.S. consumer advocacy groups accuse the U.S. government of blocking voluntary tests for mad cow disease by meat processing companies and trying to scale the existing ones down.
One case in point is Creekstone Farms, which produced the first batch of U.S. beef exported to Korea after the three-year import ban was lifted recently.
Creekstone Farms is based in Campbellsburg, Kentucky, with its processing and sales operations in Arkansas Cit y, Kansas.
Following the discovery of a bone fragment last month, a slaughterhouse – or meat processor – belonging to Creekstone Farms was banned from exporting to Korea. It was the violation of import conditions between the two countries.
According to U.S. consumer advocates, the U.S. Department of Agriculture snubbed a request to allow the Kansas-based slaughterhouse to toughen its testing procedures. The consumer groups include the Minnesota-based Organic Consumers Association, whose claims were extensively reported by USA Today.
According to the advocacy group, Creekstone Farms wanted to assure customers that its cattle is safe to eat by testing every cow for mad cow disease.
But the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) blocked private companies from selling disease testing kits to Creekstone, arguing that there was no significant mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), problem in the country.
USA Today recently reported that the USDA is afraid Creekstone will set a precedent for other meat processors to follow and make a dent in beef exports of the U.S. agriculture industry.
Currently, the U.S. government tests only 1 percent of the roughly 100,000 cattle slaughtered daily.
The USDA is planning to reduce daily testing for mad cow disease by 90 percent. It has not been confirmed whether the plan has been implemented, but the revised plan calls for testing only 0.11 percent, or about 110, of the 100,000 cattle tested daily.
“Korea raised the (Creekstone-USDA) case in former talks to resume U.S. beef imports in September,” said Kim Chang-seob, an official at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. “U.S. officials said they follow global standards in regulations on cattle examination.”
“A more urgent issue is avian flu in poultry in the domestic market,” Kim said. “Why are a few bits of bone so important?”
Byun Hye-jin, a ranking official at the Korean Federation of Medical Groups for Health Rights (KFHR), said the U.S. government’s alleged laxness in oversight of mad cow disease is not news.
“The U.S. agriculture industry is the No. 2 political funding source to the Bush administration,” she said.
“I believe the USDA’s blockade for some meat processors’ proposal to extend mad cow disease testing is to block fatal damages to the agriculture industry (from a possibility of more BSE detection).”
In contrast to the U.S., many European countries and Japan are testing all slaughtered cattle, she said. “As we continue to say, the U.S. cannot produce boneless beef because they use big electric saws in processing cattle parts.”
Last Friday, the government said it found three bone fragments in the 3.2 tons of beef from Premium Protein Products, a slaughterhouse in the state of Nebraska, that arrived in Korea on Nov. 23.
The third batch of U.S. beef, totaling 10 tons, has arrived at Incheon International Airport. It is to be quarantined. The 651 boxes of beef were also processed in Nebraska. The state has the greatest number of beef processing rule violations.