The chief trade envoys for the United States and South Korea were meeting Friday for talks meant to resolve a crisis over the resumption of American beef shipments that has paralyzed South Korea's pro-U.S. government, the AP reported.
The pair, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon, were attempting to "find a mutually agreeable path forward on this issue," said Gretchen Hamel, a Schwab spokeswoman.
In Seoul on Friday, about 10,000 demonstrators gathered in front of City Hall, the latest of a series of anti-government rallies that have clogged the streets of the capital for more than a month. The entire South Korean Cabinet offered this week to resign to quell public outrage that the policy to allow the shipments is not sensitive to health concerns.
The Bush administration has floated one possible solution, saying it supports beef packaging labels showing the ages of slaughtered cows. Kim has said he will try to get Washington to approve measures under which the beef industry would agree voluntarily not to ship meat from cattle older than 30 months, even though a recently settled U.S.-South Korean beef pact would allow such beef. Scientists think infection levels of mad cow disease increase with age.
American beef processors have said they are willing to label beef shipments bound for South Korea. Tyson Foods Inc., JBS Swift & Co., Cargill Meat Solutions Corp., National Beef Packing Co. and Smithfield Beef Group Inc. say the labels would indicate whether the beef is from cattle under or over 30 months. In a press release, Tyson says that most of the beef shipped by the U.S. processors is from cattle under 30 months old.
The Bush administration has said it will not renegotiate the beef deal signed by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and President Bush. The accord was supposed to have settled a major irritant in ties between the allies.
South Korea was the third-largest overseas market for U.S. beef until it banned imports after a case of mad cow disease was detected in 2003, the first of three confirmed cases in the United States.
Mad cow disease is the common term for a brain-wasting disease in cattle called bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. In people, eating meat contaminated with BSE is linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a rare and deadly nerve disease.