Keeping Koreans Safe From Mad CowMounting fears in Europe over mad cow disease are spreading to Korea, illustrating that we are indeed living in a global village.
The biggest concern of the people lies in whether Korea is really safe from mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform ence-phalopathy. The public continues to nurse anxieties about the fatal illness, despite the authorities' declaration that the nation has no reason to fear an outbreak, and the government's announcement that every possible preventive measure is being taken.
The anxieties may be caused by the recent heavy media coverage of the disease. Certainly, the press should promptly publish information related to public health and urge the government to take appropriate counter measures. We should be also grateful for such efforts.
It must be remembered, however, that media reports on food and diseases directly linked to the nation's health can amplify jitters.
Let's think back to the controversies that took place over the possible ill effects of industrial beef tallow, which was being used in instant noodles. Continual reporting on the potential effects had severe repercussions but the court did not find the producers guilty of using inedible beef tallow. The media coverage magnified public suspicions and inflict ed serious losses on the ramyeon industry.
The same is true of the news reports on the possibility of humans being infected by foot-and-mouth disease. The reports came in the immediate wake of the government's announcement to the contrary and intensified confusion. The government had to concentrate its administrative powers on easing public fears when it should have been focusing on preventive measures against an epidemic among the country's livestock. The end result was a drop in the consumption of meat products and growing financial difficulties for farmers.
This was an example of how reporting unconfirmed facts or probabilities can exacerbate social confusion and harm commerce.
Japanese press reports confirmed only the facts about the mad cow crisis in Europe, as they did during last year's foot-and-mouth scare. The Japanese media's reporting methods are instructive to Korean journalists.
The Korean government is taking every step to keep the nation safe from mad cow disease. It is abreast of the United States and Japan in devising measures to defend against an outbreak. One major example is the ban on the import of cows, beef, and bone meal for animal feed from 30 countries, including countries with confirmed outbreaks of mad cow disease and their neighbors. It also prohibits the use of animal feed, such as powdered bone of cattle, which is suspected as the main infection route. The government has been testing cattle for the disease since 1996 in accordance with international regulations, and no domestic cattle has tested positive.
As the head of the nation's agricultural and forestry administration, I emphasize once again that there is no reason to fear mad cow disease infecting the livestock in Korea.
The government plans to use the current controversy as an opportunity to develop a hygienic and environment-friendly livestock industry. It not only intends to devise the measures necessary to prevent mad cow disease, but also take comprehensive and systemic action to prevent the recurrence of the food-and-mouth epidemic.
As for inadequacies in the government's response or measures it has failed to take, the press and public are invited to offer their counsel and opinion. The people will be able to enjoy their meals without concerns about food safety when the government and the press cooperate and keep watch to ensure the people's health and the development of the nation's livestock industry.