Friday, May 30, 2008

S. Korea to Expand Country-of-Origin Labelling for Beef in June

S. Korea to Expand Country-of-Origin Labelling for Beef in June
(Yonhap News Agency)

South Korea will expand and strengthen the country-of-origin labelling rules for beef sold by restaurants and catering services in June to enhance the right of consumers to choose the food they eat, the government said Wednesday. The Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said the tightened rules should go into effect around June 18 after the three-week period for preannouncement of legislation.

The new rules call for all eateries, fast food chains, catering firms and other food service providers, regardless of size, to clarify the type of beef they are using. Currently, only restaurants that have a floor space of 300 square meters are required to notify customers of the beef's country of origin.

Under the new standards, a restaurant must specify the country of origin of each cut being served, and in the case of Korean beef, it also has to specify if the meat is from premium "hanwoo" cows, regular meat cattle or those used to make milk.

"If a stew uses beef from two or more countries, this must be explained in detail to customers under the new disclosure standards," a ministry official said. This action reflects demands by local cattle farmers that have asked for transparency at the retail level so their products can be distinguished from lower-quality meat.

He said the move is mainly aimed at preventing businesses from making unfair profits by disguising the origin of beef being used. Imported beef is much cheaper than meat from Korean hanwoo cows so if a restaurant says it is using local cuts, it can usually charge more.

The official, however, said that the steps could alleviate public concerns about the safety of U.S. beef. Despite efforts by the government to explain that U.S. beef is safe to eat, public concerns have not been fully dispelled with protestors taking to the streets almost every night to demand a renegotiation of the sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) pact.

Under the SPS deal signed April 18, South Korea greed to open its market to most beef cuts regardless of the age of the cattle as long as specified risk materials (SRMs) are removed. SRMs are banned because they pose the greatest risk of transmitting mad cow disease to humans.

Seoul is expected to implement the new import rules within this week, with U.S. beef expected to hit the market next week at the earliest.

The ministry also said that rice will come under the same guidelines starting on June 22, with strict labelling rules to be enforced for pork, chicken and kimchi as of Dec. 22.

Over 1,000 monitors are to be sent to ferret out violations, and citizens will be offered rewards of up to 2 million won (US$1,927) for reporting illegal labelling practices.

A business caught mislabeling the country of origin could be fined 30 million won with the owner facing jail time of less than three years. For those that do not label their meat, the fines could reach 5 million won and the authorities could be permitted to order the temporary closing of restaurants.

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