[Viewpoint] Park should not be swayed by fear

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[Viewpoint] Park should not be swayed by fear

Exactly four years ago, violent protesters opposing import U.S. beef turned the country lawless. They occupied downtown Seoul and attempted a march on the Blue House. They assaulted police officers and destroyed the entrance of a newspaper company. The protesters were denouncing the U.S. beef import deal, linking it with mad cow disease, but in fact, they were trying to reverse the crushing defeat of the legislative election earlier that April. Four years have passed, and the same group is summoning the specter of mad cow disease again.

The anti-Lee Myung-bak group is cornering the president, who is already powerless. They are holding a rally demanding that U.S. beef imports be stopped. They believe they can shake the administration by advocating for the health of the citizens. But it is an unfair threat against an administration that is nearing its end. At this point, the most important figure is the “future power,” and the flow will change depending on his action.

Whenever society is shaken, the competency of a leader is displayed. The leader needs to show conviction for truth and courage to persuade the citizens. The leader needs to decide if U.S. beef is really dangerous, whether it is right to suspend quarantine or import and how to fight against the groups instigating instability.

However, at this critical juncture, Park Geun-hye, the leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, claimed the quarantine should be suspended. She virtually supported the position of the opponents. Is Park’s judgment safe?

The outbreak of mad cow disease confirmed on a ranch in the United States does not threaten the safety of U.S. beef. If the cause was animal feed, it is a serious issue as it poses a risk of mass outbreak. However, this time, the dairy cow found to have mad cow disease was very old with random genetic mutation. Generally, most cattle raised for meat are less than 30 months old, while the cow in question was 10 years and seven months in age.

U.S. beef is safe historically and realistically. The World Organization for Animal Health classifies the United States as a country with “controlled risk” for mad cow disease. At the time of the 2008 U.S. beef protest in Seoul, there had been only two cases of mad cow disease found in the United States. To date, not a single person who consumed U.S. beef among the billions of people around the world has been confirmed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the human form of mad cow disease.

Therefore, the world is not stirred by the news. The United States and nearly every country that import U.S. beef, such as Japan, Canada and many in Europe, still consume U.S. beef. Thailand and Indonesia suspended beef imports this time, but they have different deals with the U.S. as they import beef from older cattle as well. Unlike these countries, Korea only imports beef from cows younger than 30 months, excluding possibly dangerous parts such as the spine.

Park Geun-hye’s call to stop the quarantine inspection means a suspension of imports in effect, which will invite the United States to fight back. Moreover, Koreans will develop a reputation for being unscientific. We will be the people who fear the groundless risk once again. Park may have the presidential election in mind and thought that the U.S. beef is safe, but the quarantine inspection should stop in order to avoid attacks from opponents. However, it is a passive move lacking trust in the voters. Most voters displayed the ability to distinguish what’s fair and what’s a trick in the April 11 legislative election.

In 2008, the government put an ad in newspapers that it would suspend imports if mad cow disease is confirmed in the United States. So Park may want to keep the word for her “politics of trust.”

However, the advertisement was an emotional move by a government on the defensive. Several months later, both the ruling and opposition parties recovered their logical thinking and made a law that allows the government to determine whether to stop beef imports.

It seems that Park Geun-hye does not understand the essence of the crisis. Four years ago, she said the beef protest is “not an ideological issue.” But she is wrong. At first, the candlelight vigils were about “health of the citizens,” but the cause was soon mixed with superstition, instigation and anti-American sentiment and became an ideological confrontation. Switzerland, Chile and Brazil also have a controlled risk of mad cow disease, just like the United States. If the beef came from any one of these countries, would they have staged similar protest rallies?

Park Geun-hye lacks either the judgment to understand the truth or the courage to speak the truth. If she is a true leader, she should say, “Dear citizens, there is no risk about the safety of the U.S. beef. People around the world are responding calmly, and we need to trust the government and observe the situation. Let’s not be stirred by insane instigations like four years ago. Tonight, I am having U.S. beef for dinner.”

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin

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