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Beef sales bring out a storm of protests

Demonstrators force suspension of sales at six Lotte branches  PLAY AUDIO

July 14,2007
Members of civic groups opposed to the sale of U.S. beef throw cow manure inside the Lotte Mart Sangmu branch in Gwangju yesterday. Newsis, which transmitted the photo, blurred their faces. Lotte Mart introduced U.S. beef yesterday, the first time a nationwide supermarket has sold it in more than three years. [NEWSIS]
Lotte Mart trumpeted its rollout of U.S. beef with full fanfare. First, the store sent out an announcement on Wednesday, talking about how much cheaper the meat would be than the Korean or Australian offerings.
Then Lotte followed the standard Korean marketing plan: posing models next to the beef to generate even more press.
“The news that Lotte will be the first chain store to sell U.S. beef received plenty of publicity,” said Gwak Gye-yeong, salesperson at the Seoul Station branch of Lotte.
What Lotte didn’t count on was a rush of protesters, some throwing dung, who forced six of the chain’s 53 stores to stop selling the beef yesterday.
The stores opened at 10 a.m. Less than an hour later, about 100 people from the civic group called the Korea Alliance Against the Kor-US FTA stormed into the Seoul Station branch, fought past riot police and held a sit-in.
The Seoul Station, Chungju, Anseong, Sangmu, Cheongju and Gwangju World Cup branches had to stop selling the meat because of the protestors. Chungju and Cheongju are in North Chungcheong. Anseong and Sangmu are located in Gyeonggi and Gwangju, respectively.
Yesterday was the first day the meat has been ever sold by large supermarket chain stores in more than three years, since fears of mad cow disease brought a ban on the beef.
More than 100 kilograms were sold before the protestors rushed in at Seoul Station.
Even after the sales were stopped, customers there asked for the U.S. beef. A woman in her late 30s who declined to give her name, said she wasn’t worried about mad cow disease. “I stayed in Los Angeles for two months last year. Nothing happened to me,” she said.
She said she couldn’t understand the protesters. “I know the cow growers are not well-off, but what about the city dwellers?”
Lotte said it had sold an estimated 2 tons, or 35 million won worth of U.S. beef, as of 2 p.m. yesterday. The amount was four times more than the import beef sales last week.
Lotte Mart, the country’s third biggest supermarket chain, prepared 10 tons of sirloin, rib eye, chuck short rib and chuck, all choice grade, which is equal to Korea’s first grade. They also lowered the price for a promotion. “Lotte is not making any direct profits from today’s sales,” said a Lotte Mart employee who declined to be identified.
One hundred grams (3.5 ounces) of non-frozen top sirloin sold for 1,550 won ($1.70). The same part from a Korean cow is sold for 6,000 won. Each customer was limited to a purchase of 1 kilogram.
Lotte will continue selling beef and the sales at the four will also resume in the near future, said Gwak.


By Hwang Young-jin Staff Writer[yhwang@joongang.co.kr]


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