South Korea Says Dioxin in U.S. Beef Shipment Exceeded Approved Level

South Korea and the United States traded questions Friday over a shipment of U.S. beef found to have included dioxin levels exceeding South Korea's norm, officials said.

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea and the United States traded questions Friday over a shipment of U.S. beef found to have included dioxin levels exceeding South Korea's norm, officials said.

The discovery was the latest bad news for the U.S. cattle industry in South Korea, already dealing with the rejection of three recent shipments of beef for including banned bone fragments, which South Korea fears could potentially harbor mad cow disease.

Seoul barred U.S. beef in December 2003 after the first reported U.S. case of the disease, known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Imports recently resumed after a nearly three-year ban, but so far no beef has made it to South Korean food stores or restaurants.

Officials said the beef with the dioxin was in the third of the shipments rejected for containing bone fragments.

Seoul has asked Washington to explain why the beef contained the dioxin, said a South Korean Agriculture and Forestry Ministry official, who refused to give his name, a common practice among government officials in South Korea who will not otherwise provide information.

According to an official at the National Veterinary Research and Quarantine Service, who also refused to give his name, and a ministry statement, 6.26 picograms of the toxic substance was found Thursday in one gram of fat, part of a 10.2-ton shipment of U.S. beef which arrived on Dec. 1. The dioxin was detected Thursday.

South Korean standards allow no more than 5 picograms per gram of fat. A picogram is equivalent to a trillionth of a gram.

Kim Mee-kyung, a senior researcher at the quarantine service, said dioxin is sometimes found in beef due to environmental pollution in the food chain. She said dioxin testing is carried out at random on about 100 samples of imported beef a year.

South Korea, formerly the third-largest foreign market for American beef, agreed to resume imports earlier this year of boneless meat from cattle younger than 30 months old, citing worries that some material inside bones could be dangerous to consume, and that younger animals are safe from mad cow disease.

Scientists believe mad cow spreads when farmers feed cattle recycled meat and bones from infected animals. The cattle disease is believed to be linked to the rare, fatal variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

A U.S. government official, speaking Friday on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, defended the safety of U.S. beef and said the Department of Agriculture was working on a request seeking details on South Korea's testing methodology.

He said that dioxin comes in varying levels of toxicity.

"We need to know what methodology was being used," he said.

U.S. officials have harshly criticized South Korea over the rejections.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Seoul's decision to turn back the third beef shipment "clearly illustrates that South Korean officials are determined to find an excuse to reject all beef products from the United States."

South Korean officials counter that they are acting are out of concerns for food safety.


Associated Press writer Hye-Min Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.

Source: Associated Press

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