Choice should be Korean consumer’s
South Korea’s move this month to allow import of American beef into the nation has sparked multiple protests caused by fear over mad cow disease contamination.
Before South Korea banned U.S. beef in 2003, U.S. firms provided two-thirds of all beef imports.
What is surprising is that mass protests, which have led to several arrests, happened at all. The government’s move was to make American beef once again available on the market. There was no government decree that required South Koreans to buy U.S. beef at local stores or even consume beef at all. Domestic beef and Australian imports are still available on the market, allowing careful consumers to ensure their product does not come from suspect suppliers.
Keun Park, president of the Korea-America Friendship Society, said to the British Broadcasting Corp. that the protests had political overtones. "The essence of the beef protests is anti-America," he said. He also said "the left-wing media has instigated the feeling that there is a good reason to fear U.S. beef."
While anti-Americanism might be a factor in the protest, a deeper and more perplexing issue is why protesting South Koreans think government action seems necessary to keep U.S. beef out. The underlying message was not "I do not want to eat American beef," but rather the message was "I do not want anyone to eat this beef as I do not think it’s safe enough."
This is the heart of the question when dealing with non-tariff barriers to international trade. To deem that a product should be excluded because of a risk is to impose this opinion upon all others. The others’ ideas, beliefs and freedoms are stamped out. A close similarity is when a loving parent prevents a child from eating too many cookies for fear the child may develop negative eating patters. But the child in this analogy is a mature adult and the parent is the far-from-loving government.
Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at Consumers Union, said in his New York Times article "Stop the Madness," that U.S. beef producers could easily calm fears of mad cow disease with a $20 test, but the Department of Agriculture will not allow it.
Hansen tracked a U.S. firm who wanted to expand testing to satisfy Japanese and Korean customers. The testing kits were prohibited from being sold by the government as they deemed the method worthless, even though they use the same procedure. Hansen said, "The Agriculture Department argued the tests should be prohibited because if one company started using them, consumer demand would drive all companies to use them, and that would add to the price of beef."
But that’s the point. Consumer demand for safe beef would insure more rigorous testing over the government’s minimum standards, which would add a price premium. But what about consumers who would not want beef at the new price? They can accept a risk premium and eat other beef.
Let us not forget that these people are adults, be they South Korean or American. It is about time the government started acting like they are.
Gilson, a business sophomore, can be reached via [email protected].