Sales thin out as U.S. beef still in dog house

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Sales thin out as U.S. beef still in dog house

Sales of U.S. beef have dropped significantly at local discount chain stores since a case of mad cow disease was discovered in a dairy cow in California on April 24.

Consumers have expressed growing concern over the safety of imported beef despite the government’s efforts to reassure the public by dispatching inspectors to review U.S. safeguards.

E-Mart’s sales of U.S. beef plummeted 66.8 percent from last Thursday to Sunday compared with the same three-day period one week earlier.

Australian beef saw its sales surge 1.8 percent in the same period, the retailer said.

However, the slump in sales triggered by the mad-cow-disease scare has given demand for alternative meats a boost.

“Sales of pork and chicken rose 15 percent and 9 percent, respectively, over the cited period,” said a spokeswoman for E-Mart, adding that seasonal factors also played a role. “Surging pork sales are not only attributed to the mad cow scare. It also has to do with the spring picnic season, when samgyeopsal [pork belly] sales traditionally go up anyway.”

Homeplus said its U.S. beef sales decreased 40 percent last Thursday and Friday from the previous week, while Australian beef sales edged up 10 percent and pork sales climbed 22 percent.

Lotte Mart suspended its sales of U.S. beef after the news broke.

“All of our U.S. beef in stock has passed the required quarantine checks and it is safe, but we’re waiting until the public regains its trust before we put it back on the shelves,” said a Lotte Mart spokesman.

Korea has ranked as the fourth-biggest buyer of U.S. beef after Canada, Mexico and Japan last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Last week’s detection of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was the fourth in U.S. history and the first case since 2006.

Although USDA said no meat entered the human food chain, Consumers Union, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that publishes Consumer Report, urged the Obama administration to conduct a thorough investigation of the case, which occurred in California.

“It is essential that the USDA conduct a thorough investigation of this case, including testing of all of the infected cow’s offspring,” Michael Hansen, a senior scientist of Consumers Union, said on Tuesday.

By Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

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