[Viewpoint]Scare tacticsOn Feb. 3, 2007, I wrote a column titled “A piece of bone, an absurd argument” for the JoongAng Daily. In the column, I criticized the Roh Moo-hyun administration for fine-combing imported American beef for pieces of bone smaller than the size of a fingernail to justify the ban on imports of such meat. A year and three months have passed since then. There have been big sociopolitical changes in the country. The pendulum of power has shifted from the left to the right. The previous administration troubled the United States with pieces of bone that even the X-ray machines couldn’t detect. Now, any kind of beef can be imported as long as the specific risk materials, or SRMs, are removed.
The whole country has been swept up in the mad cow scare. Young girls came out to the Cheonggye Stream and joined in the candlelight protest with signs saying, “I have only lived fifteen years so far.” Opponents of U.S. beef claim that resumption of imports means death.
A fan site for a popular boy band has a posting, “Let’s protect our beloved Dongbangsingi from mad cow disease.” Others claim that Korean citizens will become guinea pigs for mad cow disease research.
So far, three cows have been found to have bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the United States. One of them came from Canada, and the other two were born in the United States. The two were born before 1997, when protein-based feed was banned. No infected cow has been found since then. An authoritative international organization has determined that the United States has mad cow disease under control.
When a problem is too complicated, it is a good idea to refer to statistics. Experts say that the possibility of getting infected with mad cow disease after eating American beef is one in a hundred million. When there are so many things around us that put our lives in danger, this risk is negligible. Over 300 million Americans are still enjoying U.S. beef.
Some might already think I am ignorant and have no idea what bovine spongiform encephalopathy is. They will say I can write such an opinion because I don’t know how fatal the disease can be. They will say mad cow disease can have an incubation period of 10 to 20 years or longer, and that I am only thinking about the present. But bogus theories have frightened young students into thinking if they eat infected beef now, they will get sick when they grow up.
These frightening theories spread quickly through cyberspace. By its nature, the Internet contains all different kinds of arguments, but I cannot tolerate the thoughtless reports of certain networks. I wonder whether MBC’s “PD Notebook,” which ignited the phantom scare, actually interviewed the author of the controversial paper in advance. He now says that the Korean genetic makeup is unrelated to an outbreak of mad cow disease. The footage of a faltering cow has been played ad nauseam. But the scene was taken from a report on animal cruelty by an animal rights group.
If U.S. beef is so dangerous, opponents should insist that traveling to the United States be banned immediately. What about Great Britain, where there have been multiple cases of mad cow disease? Should you be jailed for traveling there? When nearly 10 million people travel to the United States, Europe and Japan, why don’t they argue that travel be banned first?
Preparing for the possibility of a mad cow disease outbreak and claiming U.S. beef causes mad cow disease are two completely different things. It is a deception in the name of national health. If you are so concerned about the health of our citizens, avian influenza is far scarier, for it spreads via a virus. There are more victims that have fallen to AI than BSE. Why are some people abusing the mad cow disease issue for political reasons? The leftists have been crushed repeatedly at the presidential and general elections. They have grown nervous that they might lose their gains of the last decade. In this desperation, they were given an opportunity. It was offered to them by President Lee Myung-bak, in the form of U.S. beef. They scared people into thinking that their brains would soon have holes on them, and society was shaken to its roots. The leftists have successfully cultivated an anti-American movement.
They might think they did a good job making this an issue now, but the aftermath is more serious. Experts are taking a common position. The Korean Medical Association announced that they cannot conclude Koreans are genetically vulnerable to mad cow disease. The Korean Federation of Science and Technology Societies confirmed on May 9 that the scary stories about mad cow disease have no scientific grounds. However, the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers’ Union announced that it would campaign against the serving of U.S. beef in schools from May 15. There is an old saying, “reading a sutra to a cow” when someone does not understand a fact and sticks to his own logic. Perhaps, now we should say, “reading a sutra to a mad cow.”
*The writer is the economic news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo
by Shim Sang-bok