Grading beef from A to E

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Grading beef from A to E

Korean beef prices continue to plunge. According to the Korea Institute for Animal Products Quality Evaluation (KAPE), wholesale prices of top-grade native beef dropped to 11,280 won ($10.40) per kilogram last week - a whopping 33 percent decline from the same period last year. That is because the number of Korean cattle had increased steadily last year before an outbreak of mouth-and-foot disease resulted in the massive slaughter of Korean cattle.

The number of Korean cattle increased from 2.6 million in June 2009 to 2.73 million this March. The price drop was further fueled by an increase in beef imports, which rose 22 percent to 98,277 tons in the first four months this year compared to the same period a year earlier.

The decrease in the popularity of Korean beef also stems from government overprotection. Though our restaurants always boast that they use first-grade local beef, the quality of the beef falls far short of consumers’ expectations.

KAPE classifies Korean beef into five grades: A++, A+, A, B and C. Beef with an “A” grade actually refers to beef in the third tier of the rating system, which goes against consumer expectations that an “A” grade is the best.

Of the Korean beef sold on the market last month, A++ grade beef accounted for only 9.6 percent of the total, followed by A+ (23.3 percent), A (31.1 percent), B (25.1 percent) and C (10.3 percent), which indicates that beef over the A grade accounted for 65 percent of the total sold. The Korea Consumer Agency and other civic groups have long demanded that this sly practice be stopped while also advocating for a better grading system.

At long last, KAPE has come up with a solution that will be implemented next month. It will stamp all five grades on the label and a circle will be drawn around the grade of the meat for sale. But that also seems insufficient.

The government’s policies should not confuse citizens. It must be denounced if it attempted to confuse people with tricks. The current grading system is the result of local farmers’ pressure on the government to promote consumption of their beef. But if their beef gets a C grade rather than an A grade, it turns customers away. There is another problem with the new grading system - it only applies to butcher shops. If restaurants don’t have to follow the rule, it will only damage the government’s image. Why doesn’t it enforce a much better - and clearer - A to E rating system?
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