[Outlook]Blow out the candlesA question pops up when I see candlelight vigils against the importation of U.S. beef. In America, most cattle older than 30 months are milking cows that have given milk for a long time. Their meat is quite tough. Americans don’t eat beef aged over 30 months as steak. This isn’t because of the risk of mad cow disease in the nation’s meat supply, but because it doesn’t taste as good. They eat young beef for steak, and use tough meat for sausages or hamburgers. Why wouldn’t we Koreans use them in a similar way?
Relevant international organizations and the U.S. government guarantee the safety of imported American beef, and thus Americans, Europeans, and other people worldwide enjoy eating it. Why shouldn’t we Koreans eat it, despite it being cheaper than beef from other nations? The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) classifies the United States a “controlled-risk” country in terms of mad cow disease (the second category). Korea is in the third category, as it is not prepared to report its sanitation situation to the OIE. Switzerland, Chile and Brazil are classified in the same category as the United States, and recognized as having “controlled” risk status. If we imported beef from Switzerland, famous for the beautiful Alps; Chile, with its world-renowned wine; or the soccer nation of Brazil, would we be confronted with a storm of candlelight vigils?
It was former President Roh Moo-hyun who promised to import American beef. When the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement was concluded on April 2, 2007, Roh unveiled his plan to respect the OIE’s recommendations during negotiations over the importation of American beef. If he decided to let the meat in, would the government have met fierce public opposition? Many people say the administration has not sufficiently explained the situation to the people and that something went wrong during the negotiations. Therefore, the government complemented the negotiations and President Lee Myung-bak extended apologies on the matter. So why does the number of candles continue to increase?
Roh saw his approval rating nosedive to nearly 10 percent. However, there were no candlelight rallies or protesters trying to force their way into the Blue House. People’s lives are hard at the moment because of skyrocketing oil prices. However, the people underwent more difficulties and challenges during the 1997 financial crisis. At that time, though, there were no candles in the streets. No one tossed a stone at former President Kim Young-sam. The poor collapsing cows shown on television did not even have mad cow disease. But still, people want to toss stones at the current president. Why is President Lee getting this thrashing? Only 100 days have passed since the presidential inauguration. What did he do wrong?
It is not just because of the imports of American beef that many people are angry with President Lee. He won 48.7 percent of the vote. The thing is, it was not because people were fond of him. Former President Roh put the nation in disorder and left the economy in turmoil, and presidential candidate Lee said that he would do his best to fix it, while maintaining an ethical stance. People trusted him and helped him to the throne despite all his faults. However, President Lee failed to correctly gauge public opinion. He believed that everything would turn out as he wished if he tries his best. Blinded by pragmatism, he ignored the importance of ethics, principles and common sense. Why should people learn English all their lives, even though things are already hard for them? It was a policy that did not take the people into due consideration. Now that he had a moral debt to pay off, he should have hired flawless people as aides. However, he had his own way in everything. People felt ignored. Park Geun-hye helped the president through difficult days, but he did not keep his promises to her.
However, enough is enough. Protesters have flogged him with merciless vigor, using U.S. beef imports as their whip. The government is trying to reflect on its wrongdoings and reshuffle the cabinet. Now, it is time to ask the people holding candles what they want. When will the protests end? People hoped that the 1987 protest would result in democratization, and their dream came true. However, where do we stand now? Are they waiting for a decampment of the current political powers? People get married to a president for five years. Are we going to get divorced just because he made some mistakes early on in the honeymoon period?
If not, we should correct his mistakes in order to live together happily. The government’s faults are indeed faults, and the scientific truth is that American beef is safe. We should criticize people who distort the truth, rather than attack the government. There is no reason to boycott cheap, quality beef. It’s time to blow out the candles.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin