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Koreans Seek To Expand COOL

Amid revelations Chinese beef has been processed in poor hygienic conditions, South Korean lawmakers are seeking legislation to strengthen the consumers´ right to know by expanding the place-of-origin requirement on imported beef.

South Korea bans raw beef from China, where livestock diseases have frequently erupted, such as the latest case of foot-and-mouth disease reported in northeastern Gansu Province in January. But pasteurized Chinese beef packed in cans and pouches are allowed, which has led to a surge of such imports in recent years as a substitute for raw beef.

With most Seoul restaurants reportedly depending on canned and pouched Chinese beef, the hygienic conditions of its production are appallingly poor and consumers buy it with little knowledge of possible threats, Rep. Park Jae-wan of the main opposition Grand National Party said.

According to a report from Park´s office, which last week inspected several Chinese factories in Shandong Province, many of them failed to meet international hygiene standards. Many factories registered with the South Korean Food and Drug Administration were paper companies whose buildings were dismantled long ago or situated at false addresses, the report said. One processing company in Qingdao, which did not exist at its registered address, was found to be located inside a Chinese military unit. Another company in Laishi had a pig pen and piles of excrement alongside its beef processing factory. Also, most of the vehicles used to transport the beef to processing factories were unrefrigerated.

A group of lawmakers led by Park plans to present revisions to the Food Hygiene Law and the School Food Service Law in June requiring food service facilities bigger than 300 square meters to clarify the place of origin of their beef ingredients.

But the legislation will be short of seeking a trade limit on Chinese beef, Park´s office said.

"It will be difficult to place a ban on it, because free trade is our government´s policy and then trade frictions may occur. But, at least, the place of origin should be made public so that consumers can choose what they eat based on the information," said Lee Kwang-ho, a political attache to Park who led the inspection trip.

Television station MBC reported recently that imported Chinese beef contained 1,000 to 10,000 times more bacteria that can cause intestine illnesses than is permitted by the Food and Drug Administration.

The report also found the Chinese canned beef is frequently sold as Australian or Korean beef in Seoul restaurants because of the lack of place-of-origin labels.