Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Candles against U.S. beef

Just before his meeting with President Bush at Camp David last month, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak announced his government's plan to re-open markets to U.S. beef imports by the end of May. The announcement has stirred intense controversy in Korea where many believe the president is acting recklessly with only U.S. interests in mind. The U.S. government has made the opening of the Korean market to U.S. beef a condition in ratifying the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Korea and U.S. beef have had a rocky relationship for several years. Koreans, in general, are very concerned about mad cow disease, so a few confirmed cases in the States have them shying away from U.S. beef with the skepticism most Americans would have for dog soup. Mad cow disease and the human strain of the virus aside, many Koreans are also worried about the impact U.S. beef imports will have on farmers in this country. Not only will cattle farmers feel a pinch, but some say prices of domestic pork will drop, too, once cheaper U.S beef is available to consumers. The country is in the middle of a 20-day public feedback period regarding the issue and the public is certainly taking the opportunity to express its views. This week candlelight vigils have been the medium of protest, with well-attended events taking place across the nation. I stopped by one near KBS Tuesday evening where an estimated 10,000 demonstrators rallied peacefully.

Many media reports have mentioned the prevalence of middle and high school-aged kids showing up at the vigils. The kids say they're protesting the import of U.S. beef because if the markets are indeed fully opened, their school cafeterias will opt for cheaper American beef over the homegrown variety.

I wondered how well my white face would be received by the demonstrators, since some people have speculated that the controversy over beef imports has caused an anti-American sentiment among some Koreans. These two girls didn't seem anti-Abby, at least!

Korea has been one of the top three importers of U.S. beef in recent years (when beef import bans weren't in place due to fear of mad cow disease). I wonder if any of these 10,000 people knowingly contributed to that statistic.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

I realize that Korea is (or was) a big market for US beef, but it's a bit disheartening to see the product appear to be forced on the Korean consumer. As a US citizen I firmly believe that American beef is just as safe, if not safer, than beef from other countries. But it really looks like we're just throwing our weight around. No wonder there is such negativity about us in other parts of the world. Still it was good to see from your post that it appeared the folks at the rally were able separate their negative reaction to a government action from their reaction to individual citizens. That line gets blurred far to often now-a-days...