[Letter to the editor]A modest proposalWhile the Korean legislature and the United States Congress have yet to ratify and accept the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, the deal to resume imports of U.S. beef and the fear of mad cow disease have already made people dizzy in Korea.
People are concerned with safety, which is just a natural reaction, an essential desire. The media focus on the issue has spread fear among people, because there has been no sufficient discussion about the dangers of meat imports from the U.S. or anywhere else, and whether or not the government is adequately prepared to manage the risk and implement strict inspections and regulations.
It should be recalled that in 2003, the Korean government banned imports of American beef after mad cow disease was discovered in the United States. This move is similar to what other countries have done, such as Japan. To move forward the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, both Korean and U.S. trade officials agreed to resume imports in April, just ahead of a summit meeting between President Lee and U.S. President George W. Bush.
On May 13, television news programs featured many reports about the risk of mad cow disease in U.S. beef imports. The media reports inflated the risks and increased fears among the public.
The reports claimed that 94 percent of Koreans carry a gene that makes them more vulnerable than Americans and British people to the human variant of mad cow disease. The reports fanned fears of mad cow disease, making the issue popular and sparking protests from opposition lawmakers, farmers and civic activists against U.S. beef imports.
Since then, thousands of people have staged candlelight vigils in central Seoul to protest against the deal on importation of U.S. beef.
If the government does not adequately listen to the people, and does not take concrete measures to address these fears, it is in danger of political collapse.
The target for the political opposition is to revoke the beef deal, which means abandoning the U.S.- Korea FTA.
What options are there for the government to revoke the beef deal? Even if the opposition were in power, they would have faced a similar dilemma.
Critics have launched an Internet signature campaign calling for the impeachment of the president, who has been in office only three months and has already been hit by a set of scandals involving his aides.
In my opinion, the best scenario for the government is to maintain the agreement in principle for U.S. beef imports so as not to step back on its earlier commitment in the U.S. Korea FTA. But it must ensure that the details of government regulations and safety standards are adequate and in place.
This will not violate the agreement, but will simply extend the timetable for implementation, and soothe the fears of the public.
In the process of preparing the regulations, various industry, health and consumer organizations should be directly involved, with the results widely disseminated to the public for transparency.
There should also be contingency plans in case of an outbreak of mad cow disease and similar risks from the U.S. beef imports, as well as other aspects of the U.S.-Korea FTA.
I wish this problem to be solved by both the Lee administration and the people, through discussion and dialogue.
You Il Jeon, student,
Hanyang University Ansan Campus