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The 2008 US beef protest in South Korea was a series of protest demonstrations between 24 May 2008 and about 18 July 2008 in Seoul, Korea. At its height, the protest involved tens of thousands of people. The protest began after the South Korean government reversed a ban on US beef imports. The ban had been in place since December 2003, when the prion responsible for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or 'mad cow disease' was detected in US beef cattle. The protests occurred on a background of talks concerning the US-Korea free trade agreement. Unrest was fanned by local media reports such as the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) PD Notebook program, "Is American Beef Really Safe from Mad Cow Disease?" televised on 27 April 2008.
Controversy in South Korea over U.S. beef isn’t new, but has been largely dormant for the past four years. In 2008, the then new Lee Myung-bak government agreed, after extensive negotiations, to restart imports, which had been halted since cases of mad cow disease were found in the United States in 2003.
That decision set off a firestorm of controversy, leading hundreds of thousands of citizens to come out in the spring and early summer of 2008 in protest over the resumed imports. Sensationalist media reports and online rumors fueled speculation that the new president was recklessly putting South Koreans’ health at risk of contracting bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as mad cow disease.
The deal has sparked public outrage amid widespread perceptions, fanned in part by sensational media reports, MBC PD Notebook, that it exposes the country to a higher risk of mad cow disease.
On 23 December 2003, a first case of BSE in the US was found in Washington state. The Holstein cow had been imported from Canada in 2001. On 9 December the 6.5-year-old cow was slaughtered. The cow was a "downer" (a cow that is unable to walk). For that reason, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) was automatically notified; and the cow was examined before and after its death by a government vet. The vet determined that the cow was suffering from complications of calving. Samples of tissue were taken for further testing for BSE. Parts of the cow with a high risk of transmitting the BSE prion were removed but may have been sent for "inedible rendering" into food for non-ruminant animals. The carcass itself was allowed to continue on for further processing into human food at other facilities. On 23 December 2003 when tests proved positive for BSE, a recall was made. The contaminated meat had not entered the commercial market. Offspring of the cow were destroyed. South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan banned imports of US beef. The head of the US FDA at the time was Ann M. Veneman, a former lobbyist for the food industry.
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