Needless to say, the Hani isn’t very happy with the government’s refusal so far to order a ban on US beef imports:

Seoul’s response was tepid. Far from ordering any immediate quarantine inspection suspensions, all it has done is announce that it will be requesting information from Washington and strengthening its quarantine measures. This is far too casual an approach to take, given how intently the South Korean public is watching. It is all well and fine to be cautious, but this response raises questions as to whether the government’s priorities lie with citizen health or with the interests of the United States. It seems to have already forgotten that the candlelight vigils against mad cow disease four years ago were triggered by the irresponsible attitude of the government, which seemed to put citizen health second.

The conservative press is taking a more measured approach:

But it is too early to tell if the lethal disease has been found in U.S. beef imports. Korea restricts U.S. beef imports to cattle younger than 30 months old as older animals are at higher risk of having the disease – and to cattle whose specified risk material (SRM) is removed. In general, it takes a long time before the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) officially notifies a country of the existence of the disease in cattle as the government needs to conduct an epidemiologic investigation before the OIE makes a final judgment. It is also difficult for the Korean government to take unilateral action to suspend beef imports because of its obligation to respect the agreed hygiene conditions.

Yet, we should take into account our deep psychological trauma from the massive protest in 2008. A year later, the government established guidelines for dealing with a breakout of the disease. According to them, the quarantine authorities immediately stop inspections on beef imports from a suspicious country and then decide whether to impose restrictions on beef imports after experts’ assessment of the risk.

However, the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries appears to be fueling people’s anxiety by announcing that it will reach a final decision after collecting more information on the disease. The authorities must quickly stop quarantining U.S. beef. Under any circumstances, the government must prioritize the safety of its people ahead of anything to receive their trust.

My guess is, cool and measured won’t win the day.

The progressive press is taking particular note of an advertisement, run in all the major papers, purchased by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MIFAFF) in May of 2008 promising that if a case of Mad Cow Disease were discovered in the United States, Korea would immediately stop US beef imports. The government repeated this promise in a press release the following month. The left is calling on the government to keep its promises, but the problem is, every time the government went out and talked about immediate import bans, the American side warned them this would be unacceptable. For those who read Korean, check out the Hani’s chart on this:

When Korea’s livestock quarantine law was amended in August of 2008 (with opposition support, the Chosun Ilbo notes), it allowed Seoul to suspend imports of US beef if need be, but did not mandate it. One opposition lawmaker thinks a secret deal was cut, but judging from the language and the government response so far, I don’t know if there even has to be—see Cheong Wa Dae’s response:

“The government’s foremost priority is people’s health,” said Blue House spokesman Park Jeong-ha. “We insisted earlier on that the government would immediately suspend imports only if mad cow disease detected in the U.S. threatens national health but there are no grounds for believing that at present.”

Park also said (see the Hani link) that the government didn’t violate its promise in the advertisement because the government could not sufficiently explain everything because ad copy is too short.

I’ll say it for the 10,000th time—if the Lee Myung-bak administration has had a fatal flaw, it is its ham-fisted public relations efforts.

Allow me a second to let out a Mel Gibson-esque roar.

(Leaves room, lets out a Mel Gibson-esque roar.)

The Agriculture Minister didn’t inspire much confidence at a press conference either, basically saying that because US embassy people had told him that US beef was safe—the Mad Cow in question was a dairy cow over 30 months old with an atypical form of the disease—the situation didn’t require an import suspension. This might very well be true, sure, but the manner in which he explained it left much to be desired.

Oh, the Hani also reported that Koreans are more susceptible to developing vCJD because Koreans eat beef bone broth and gopchang, and Korea has a relatively higher percentage of people with a gene making them weak against the disease. The Hani admits the latter is controversial, although they failed to mention why.