Alert: Mad Cow Disease

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Alert: Mad Cow Disease

The general public is nervous over the news that some animal feed, suspected of causing mad cow disease, was used in Korea in the name of recycling leftover food and was imported as well. At the Daegwallyeong branch of the National Livestock Research Institute under the Rural Development Administration and at Anseong of Kyonggi province, 300 cows have been given fodder made of food debris since April 1999, and 40 of the animals were butchered and sold in the market at the end of last year. The main ingredient for the feed in question was food waste containing beef bone meal from beef sparerib restaurants, among others. Furthermore, the foreign press reported that the largest British cow bone meal feed manufacturer exported its product to more than 70 countries, including South Korea, from 1988 to 1996.

The Korean Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry admits these facts, but says we should not worry about it because no case of mad cow disease has been reported in Korea and the British feed in question was imported to manufacture bone china. But the government''s countermeasures against the disease have been extremely slipshod. The case in point is the ban on giving animal-byproduct feed to ruminating animals. The United Kingdom prohibited this practice in 1988 and the United States in 1997, but the Korean government took action only last December. The government stresses that it has barred imports of cosmetics containing brains and spinal marrow of European cows and sheep since July 1997. However, European cosmetic products are easy to obtain in Korea. Our reality is such that no related professional research centers exist and there are few researchers.

In such a situation, despite the government''s emphatic assertion that Korean livestock products are safe from mad cow disease, public anxiety has not subsided, as shown by a drastic fall in beef consumption. Instead of hastily drawing a line proclaiming Korea as a safe zone, the government must begin at square one and come up with exhaustive measures. The distribution channels of animal feed must be tracked down, and vigilance is called for to check whether any holes exist to let in contamination.
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