S. Korea PM: Strict quarantine of U.S. beef

South Korea's prime minister called for strict quarantine inspections of U.S. beef, a news report said Monday, in a move aimed at placating critics ahead of the resumption of imports, reported CNN.

South Korea and the United States struck a new deal last week that bans imports of U.S. cattle older than 30 months, considered more at risk for mad cow disease.

But activists, worried about possible health risks, vowed to continue with anti-government rallies that have prompted the entire Cabinet to offer to resign and a reshuffle of President Lee Myung-bak's top advisers.

Prime Minister Han Seung-soo instructed officials to "take thorough follow-up measures such as strengthened quarantine guidelines and quarantine capabilities" before issuing a legal notice on the resumption, Yonhap news agency reported.

In a meeting with relevant ministers, Han said the government must relieve public fears about the safety of U.S. beef.

Han's office said it could not immediately confirm the report.

Seoul had been expected to move in coming days to resume American beef imports but the ruling party and the government decided Sunday to delay the process after seeking the public's understanding on the issue.

The decision appeared to reflect concern about a possible backlash if the government and the ruling party push ahead with the resumption of imports without enough time to explain it to the public -- a move that could be seen as arrogant.

South Korea was forced to seek negotiations with Washington to revise the April beef import deal after critics accused President Lee of failing to consider public concern over possible health risks and caving in to American demands.

U.S. beef was banned from South Korea in 2003, after the first case of mad cow disease was discovered there. South Korea had previously been the third-largest market for American beef.

Eating meat products contaminated with mad cow disease is linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare and fatal human malady. U.S. and South Korean officials have insisted American beef is safe.

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