SKorea says traces of toxic chemical found in US beef

Dec. 24, 2006

SEOUL (XFN-ASIA) - South Korean officials, who have blocked three US beef shipments since officially lifting a ban on imports, said they found traces of dioxin in one of the shipments.

The chemical, that may harm human immune systems and cause cancer, was found in a package among a 10.2-tonne shipment that arrived early this year, a spokesman for the National Veterinary Research and Quarantine Service said.

The government agency said the dioxin level stood at 6.26 picograms, surpassing the five picograms limit set by Seoul. One picogram is equivalent to one trillionth of a gram.

'There is a need to look into how the dioxin got into the meat, but judging by past experience it may have something to do with the feed,' Kang Mun-Il, director of the state agency, was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.

He said the amount detected is not harmful to humans unless it is absorbed over an extended period of time.

The agriculture ministry said it had told the US embassy of the discovery and asked for clarification. The meat never reached the dining table because it was part of a shipment rejected because of bone fragments.

South Korea, once the third-largest market for US beef, this year lifted a three-year ban imposed to keep out mad-cow disease. But it has blocked all three shipments sent since the ban was scrapped after finding tiny bone fragments in them.

Under a pact agreed by the two countries, Seoul has the right to send back any meat that contains bone fragments.

US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said this month that South Korean officials were 'determined to find an excuse to reject all beef products from the United States.'

The fifth round of talks on a free trade agreement -- held this month in Montana, a key US beef-producing state -- was clouded by South Korea's decision to ban the shipments.

A US senator who will chair a trade subcommittee in the next Congress warned this week he will seek investigative hearings on South Korea and other countries that 'unfairly' restrict US beef imports.

Byron Dorgan said he was willing to seek tariffs against such countries if necessary, according to Yonhap.

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