South Korea: Why Protest Against American Beef?

Korea Beat translated a local report interviewing Korean students on the reason for their protest against the importation of American beef.

84 comments

  • jin

    South Koreans’ protest against the government: it’s much more than just about the American beef import

    I am not sure if you’ve already heard that the Korean government is going to begin to import! beef – of cattle older than 30 months, which is known to have considerable potential of ‘mad cow disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy)’ – from the United States within a month. Recently, as you might already know, there has been the largest, in history, beef recall in the U.S.The video footage released by Humane Society demonstrates how inappropriately the cattle are raised in the U.S, not to mention how dangerous it is, therefore, to eat the beef from those cows when the inspection system obviously falls short of ‘adequate’ in the U.S. I hear American people are increasingly concerned about this issue these days, as well.

    As usual, the deal was quickly made behind the door, and when we, Korean people, found out what the president, who entered the office only about 3 months ago, has done, we were outraged. Not surprisingly, the core issues regarding the beef import! and, more import!antly, danger of mad cow disease are hardly mentioned by the media. It seems like the Korean government is repeating the same message – that, it’s OK – as the British government did before the mad cow disease began to terrify the whole country, resulting in 163 victims since the mid 80s’.

    There have been a number of mass candlelight protests across the country against the deal with the U.S. The government is not only preventing media from paying attention to our voice but also calling on the police to keep an eye on the public movements, even threatening that those who participate in the protests will face ‘legal consequences.’ “Commies,” the leftist are leading the crowd, according to the government, and they argue there is a political demagogue behind the public dissent. It seems only logical to conclude that we need to take harder action against the government, because there are just way too many problems with them for us to fight against. And naturally, the public backlash is only escalating.

    Even more urgent, genetically modified corns were already shipped to this country and are reportedly going on sale from next month, here in Korea. I recently learned the GMO was even rejected by African countries when it was offered as aid.

    This incredibly overt neoliberal president Myung-bak Lee (shortly called MB) , former CEO, and his administration are doing everything they can to turn this country into hyper-capitalist state in such a short amount of time.

    They are planning to:
    1. privatize the health care system – going for “the American style.” Unbelievable.
    2. privatize the water/electricity/gas supply, postal service, .
    3. privatize other state-owned enterprises including the Seoul Metro, public bank(the Korea Development Bank) and other institutions in which public funds are invested.
    Daewoo Ship-building & Marine Engineering – which produces submarines, destroyers, battle ships, submarine rescue vessels, AUV,
    and other specialty vessels – is one of them; and it is going to be sold via Goldman Sachs Korea – in which the president’s nephew has
    been lately hired as the chairman – to a private corporation or, possibly, to “China.” Obviously, this is going to be an enormous threat
    to national security.
    4. make a huge canal across the country – which, even before the last presidential election, was highly controversial and severely
    criticized by intellectuals, environmentalists and the public, etc, for its environmental and even economic risks.
    5. erase the “Japanese colony era” from textbooks, claiming we must forgive them and get over the past. As you might know, there still are a number of issues left unsolved about the historical tragedy, such as the ‘comfort women’ issue. The president was born in Osaka, Japan.

    All these news came out within 3 months.

    Words fail me.

    In the recent visit to the U.S., the president said, in front of the audience consisting of the government officials and businesspeople, that he is “a business-friendly person, and (even though some people criticize him for being too business-friendly) wants to be more business-friendly,” and, even more outrageously, that ‘he’s the CEO of Korea. Inc.” The applause, to me, resonated as the beginning of disaster. The upcoming negotiation on FTA with the U.S. is going to enslave ‘Korea. Inc’ and the citizens to the hands of multi-national corporations.

    Our hard-earned democracy is in danger.

    The whole country is at stake.

  • Sonagi

    “I hear American people are increasingly concerned about this issue these days, as well.”

    I do not eat US factory farm beef. I would not eat Korean beef, either. Korean cattle operations aren’t as large and industrialized as US factory farms, but Korean cows, like American cows, are fed grain and soy-based feed cocktails that their ruminant digestive systems do not tolerate well, hence, the use of antibiotics. It has also been alleged that some Korean farmers use the muscle enhancer clenbuterol to obtain more even marbling of the meat.

    “The government is not only preventing media from paying attention to our voice but also calling on the police to keep an eye on the public movements, even threatening that those who participate in the protests will face ‘legal consequences.”

    How is that you manage to have internet access in order to post here yet are unaware that the US beef import issues and the demonstrations have been front page news on every major newspaper from Chosun to Donga to Hankyoreh to Kyunghyang? Only the Chosun Ilbo is sympathetic to the government, publishing stories downplaying the fears and critical of the demonstrations. All other newspapers are anti-US beef and pro-demonstrations.

    Public demonstrations are part of a vibrant democracy. Holding them in the street, thereby blocking traffic is a violation of the rights of other citizens. Citizens have the right to express themselves. They do not have the right to impede the movement of others in the public space. While living in Seoul, I wasted too many hours sitting on a bus trying to work its way around huge crowds imposing their political views in the middle of major downtown streets.

  • jin

    “Only the Chosun Ilbo is sympathetic to the government, publishing stories downplaying the fears and critical of the demonstrations. All other newspapers are anti-US beef and pro-demonstrations.”

    Merely mentioning ‘protest,’ ‘mad cow disease,’ etc., doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s really going on with us. Chosun, Jungang, Donga, and all the other conservative media, yes, covered this issue but not surprisingly in a distorted manner. What they do, basically, is to repeat what the president and Hannaradang argue, and to make us, who strongly their policies, look like make a fuss about the whole thing.

    Just for your information, Chosun, etc., – just about 10 months back, when the ex-president Roh Muhyun and his administration decided to import beef of cattle younger than 30 months, and the meat only, from the U.S. – repeatedly wrote on the front page about how ‘dangerous’ American beef can be, etc, implying that the administration is unthinkingly endangering the public health.

    Outrageously enough, their opinion oh so quickly changed as the new administration took over the government. Suddenly , American beef is so safe that those who raise their voice against it are just making a fuss.

    Good that you don’t eat beef. I won’t eat beef either. And, as you said, although it isn’t AS BAD, we have to enhance the inspection and feed system to make sure Korean cows are raised in a healthy environment. Importing beef from the U.S. – just because Korean beef is not 100% safe – is ridiculous.

    We have held the candlelight protest for about 17 times so far, and it was indeed peaceful. But, apparently, ‘peaceful’ doesn’t mean a thing to the president: he doesn’t listen, NOTHING’s changed.

    So we had to take a step further, by taking to the street. And we maintained peaceful like we always have. Yet the police were the violent ones……. we were peacefully marching. We constantly said in one voice: “Keep it a Peaceful Protest.”

    I am not sure if you’ve read about what I wrote nearly at the end. All these privatization plans are absolutely unacceptable. I can only hope you will realize how vicious and manipulative this government is – to an extent we cannot tolerate and just sit down, watching them handing over the whole country to American government and the corporate hands.

  • Carl

    The South Koreans are so North Korean in their mindset.
    They are only one way and have no clue on to how they became the Country they are.

    They need to remember that it was the USA that saved their Freedom Loving Butts from being North Korean.
    Too bad we saved them as It may of been better that they should be North Korean. Then we would not have their junk and lousy auto’s. They could all be straving and listening to the Fearless Fool 24/7.

    Now the real issue is that their farmers beef they make 3-4 times and are in self presevation mode. They want to contnue being greedy liktle Kim Jong Il’s. But they peddle thier trinkets and junk at such a low cost and cry if any import duties put on their cars and electronics.

    It is time for the USA to forget about these ch9ildren of North Korea. Thay want them so bad we should pack up close out and ban their products.

    We can also let the Million Man Army of their beloved North Korean Evil Doers Plunder them to where we should of left them back in the 1950’s

    Go ahead and talk bad on the USA and Destroy our dollar. It will be short lived and you will pay the ultimate price.

  • jin

    So………. insisting on “FAIR TRADE” is what you define as “north Korean.”

    How American are you?

    It’s mainly about current Korean government who’s please to kiss ass of the American government. We are not against American PEOPLE. It’s notorious American and now Korean government.

    Americans saving a weak country? How about their never-ending enslavement of the rest of the world?

    All we want is fair trade, justice and peace.

    We are not trying to ban American beef altogether. We are outraged because the government’s decided to import beef products including those that have been recently banned in the “U.S.” I am sure you’ve heard about the biggest beef recall in America.

    We are humans just like you are. We refuse to eat what the Americans recently deemed ‘improper’ even as a “pat food.”

    Please do not oversimplify the issue here. It’s not about anti-America.

  • jin

    So………….. fighting for FAIR TRADE is what you define as “north Korean”?

    We are not insisting on banning beef import from the U.S altogether. We are refusing to eat what the American government recently determined “improper” even as “pet food.” How come importing beef of cattle younger than 30 months from the U.S is an expression of blinded anti-America sentiment?

    Please, don’t oversimplify this issue. The situation here is a lot more grave than that. It’s not anti-America. It’s pro- justice.

    We are fighting for safety, fairness, justice, and peace.

    And I want you to learn what the U.S has done so far to enslave weak countries all around the world in the name of ‘assistance.’ So much for help.

  • jin

    sorry for the double post. I thought one of my messages has been accidentally deleted…

  • Jee

    Dear Carl,

    I do not believe most of American think like you do. I hope you can have a chance to study more about the situation as Koreans do.

    I just hope if America is truely a country leading the world or if it wants to be, then they, especially the govenrment need to learm more what is responsibility and moral duty as a leader.

    Many countries only focus on becoming rich and dying with money in a coffin including the Korean government.. we need to look around and slow down a little bit. please let’s not do something is not good. it is very simple.. if it is bad and something what you do not want to do, then it is same to others.

    For those ‘big’ countries, please respect other countries. who knows, when the position will be swapped? History changes.

  • Sonagi

    Merely mentioning ‘protest,’ ‘mad cow disease,’ etc., doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s really going on with us. Chosun, Jungang, Donga, and all the other conservative media, yes, covered this issue but not surprisingly in a distorted manner. What they do, basically, is to repeat what the president and Hannaradang argue, and to make us, who strongly their policies, look like make a fuss about the whole thing.

    So you’re expecting all Korean papers, regardless of political leanings, to print only pro-demonstrator screeds? That certainly would be balanced journalism, wouldn’t it.

    We have held the candlelight protest for about 17 times so far, and it was indeed peaceful. But, apparently, ‘peaceful’ doesn’t mean a thing to the president: he doesn’t listen, NOTHING’s changed.

    So we had to take a step further, by taking to the street. And we maintained peaceful like we always have. Yet the police were the violent ones……. we were peacefully marching.

    If you violate the law, regardless of the reason, expect the police to enforce it. Blocking traffic is creating a public disturbance. At least MLK and Gandhi understood and accepted that being arrested is a possible consequence of civil disobedience. I did not witness these protests, but in my many years of experience with demonstrations by students, laborers, and civic groups since KYS’s presidency, the violence is never one-sided. This is especially true when emotions are running high.

    All these privatization plans are absolutely unacceptable. I can only hope you will realize how vicious and manipulative this government is – to an extent we cannot tolerate and just sit down, watching them handing over the whole country to American government and the corporate hands.

    I realize that these protests are about more than the beef imports. However, your final statement sounds like hysterical shrieking. I sincerely hope these protests will expand to include demands that USFK leave Korea immediately. Full sovereignty is achieved only when one takes complete responsibility for one’s defense.

  • jin

    We have not violated the law while we peacefully held protest with candles in our hands. It was legitimately reported to police; and the peaceful protests went on about 20 times.
    Not a thing changed. The government didn’t listen, at all; and even when their blatant lies were revealed in several hearings held by the national assembly.

    Did you ever hear about the beef import dispute between the U.S and EU? And, in France, there had been a series of protests against the beef import from the U.S.
    We are NOT just asking the government to shut down the door entirely.
    With legitimate reasons, we are insisting on importing the beef of cattle younger than 30 months from the U.S.
    In other words, they should invalidate this overtly unfair negotiation – negotiation is not even the right word – right now.

    The protesters only started taking to the street a few days back, because the minister still says he will proclaim the deal within a couple of days from now; and, once they validate the deal, we cannot do anything.

    Yes, we took to the street and it’s the police’s job to arrest us. What’s outrageous, however, is that they are using violence against these peaceful protesters. You might think “the violence is never one-sided.” But it has been, this time.
    Seriously. Believe me. And THAT has been hardly reported by the press. They downsize the actual number of protesters and never report the danger of BSE(mad cow disease), like they used to 10 months ago, warned by scientists.

    I am not looking for ‘pro-demonstration’ media, but don’t you think it is quite funny that – notoriously (neo)conservative – major newspapers changed their viewpoint 180 degree so quickly on the danger of importing the beef – older than 30 months – from the U.S as the new administration steps in?

    Is it too much for citizens of democracy – to demand that government ensure the public health and our sovereignty? And, by sovereignty, we are not saying we should isolate ourselves. But here, in this deal, the Korean government even handed over the right to inspection to American government. Don’t you think they should enhance their rights to protection of the public?

    The American inspection system is hardly reliable. They only inspect 0.1% of the total beef products whereas we, in previous administration, used to inspect every single beef product imported from the U.S. Now, is it too much that we are insisting on the right to inspect the materials on our own?

    The Korean government’s message that “it’s ok, don’t worry, mad cow disease isn’t that dangerous” is a horrible flashback of the same attitude as the British government before the disease terrified the whole U.K as it has killed 165 people so far. It hasn’t been that long since a 24 year-old young man died after suffering from vCJD(human-form mad cow disease), and recently a young woman died of the allegedly same disease in the U.S.

    And, as it was 2003 that the mad cow disease was officially last reported in the U.S, it is not too late to wait until 2013 – since the incubation period of the disease is known to be approx. 10 years – to lift the ban from import on beef older than 30 months.

    Hysterical shrieking? Yeah. It may sound so to Americans so used to super-neoliberal privatization plans. We cannot let the disaster overtake the whole country.

    1. privatize the health care system – going for “the American style.” Unbelievable.
    2. privatize the water/electricity/gas supply, postal service, .
    3. privatize other major state-owned enterprises
    4. make a huge canal across the country – which, even before the last presidential election, was highly controversial and severely
    criticized by intellectuals, environmentalists and the public, etc, for its environmental and even economic risks.
    5. erase the “Japanese colony era” from textbooks, claiming we must forgive them and get over the past. (translation: distort the history, like it never happened.)

    If all these horrible news came out in less than 3 months, I wonder what democratic citizens must do.

    Just sit back and watch as a spectator?

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