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Swiss beef sparks political row in South Korea

The South Korean Agriculture and Forestry Minister publicly eats beef in a show of confidence that cattle in the country are safe from BSE

(Keystone Archive)

A political row is brewing in South Korea over Swiss beef shipments to the famine-stricken North. Politicians have urged the government in Seoul to stop Switzerland and Germany donating beef because of concerns over Mad Cow Disease, or BSE.

Lawmakers from both South Korea's ruling and opposition parties lobbied the government on Tuesday to prevent European beef from reaching North Korea.

An opposition assemblyman from the Grand National Party, Shin Kyung-shik, said: "It is immoral to donate beef which people cannot eat. We should stop beef supplies to North Korea even via appealing to the United Nations."

He added that South Korea was at risk, too, as contacts between the two Koreas increased.

His words were echoed by a ruling Millennium Democratic Party assemblyman, Chung Chul-ki, who threatened to blockade shipping lanes to prevent European beef reaching North Korea.

A Swiss journalist in the region, Georges Baumgartner, told swissinfo that Seoul believes Switzerland is sending the beef to stimulate its domestic market which has been in the doldrums since the BSE crisis erupted last autumn.

Switzerland has said it would send up to 800 tonnes of beef to famine-stricken North Korea, after buying it from domestic farmers hit by consumer fears about the disease.

The United States estimates that some two million people may have died of famine and related diseases in North Korea since 1955. North Korea puts the figure at 220,000.

swissinfo with agencies


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