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US Beef Regains Status as South Korea's Top Imported Meat


Last year, anti-government protests in South Korea erupted after President Lee Myung Bak lifted a ban on imports of American beef. Demonstrators believed U.S. beef imports were tainted with mad cow disease. Consumption of U.S. beef subsequently declined during that period. But U.S. beef is now once again South Korea's top imported meat.

Throughout last summer, the streets of Seoul were jammed with tens of thousands of protesters. Some demonstrators carried candles but others became violent, clashing with riot police.

The rallies were spurred on by internet rumors and sensational reports that Koreans were going to be served American beef, tainted with mad cow disease. But by September, the demonstrations stopped and life in South Korea got back to normal.

Today, reaction to American beef is much different.

The A-Meat butcher shop franchise only sells imports from America. Managers say business is doing great. Between their 120 locations, they sell ten tons a day.

The butcher here says boneless short ribs are a customer favorite.

She says not that many people have questions about the meat, some ask how does it taste, but no one asks if it has mad cow disease.

Ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, many supermarkets throughout South Korea are selling special gift sets of American steak.

One reason why U.S. beef has regained popularity here is because of its price. For example, one kilogram of American tenderloin costs 70 percent less than its Korean equivalent.

That is what brought customer Jin Soon Seong to A-Meat to do his shopping.

Jin says American meat is cheaper than other types, and there Is no difference in the taste.

Even though the beef protests are a thing of the past, they have left a lasting impact.

Veteran Korean journalist Shim Jae Hoon says the demonstrations have tarnished Korea's image abroad.

"Korea is basically a trading nation, we derive much of our, at least a third of our gross national income from exports," Shim said. "By our rice we have demonstrated to the rest of the world that we are only interested in selling our products and not buying from others."

Shim believes President Lee Myung Bak's political opponents and left-leaning media manipulated the protests.

"Following the government's investigation into how media companies played this issue, then the objection against American beef imports disappeared," he said.

But President Lee's troubles are not over yet.

Earlier this month, violence broke out in the halls of the National Assembly. Opposition lawmakers fought with members of the governing party in hopes of blocking passage of a free trade agreement with the United States that the president endorses.

Their siege of the Parliament forced the bill to be shelved until later this year.


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