South Korea starts beef tracking system
June 29, 2009
TOKYO (DTN) – South Korea introduced a comprehensive tracking system for domestically-sold beef Monday, which could negatively affect U.S. beef when it is applied to imported beef.
The system requires all cattle to be tagged and registered with a central data system, and only those with proper identification can now be slaughtered. The meat is tracked throughout the wholesale and retail process until reaching consumers, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said.
“Other countries such as the United States, Japan, European Union nations, Australia, New Zealand and some in South America have all introduced this system within the last decade,” said Chang-Buhm Lee, head of the Livestock Bureau at the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MIFAFF), Yonhap reported.
In fact, the U.S. system is voluntary and resisted by many cattle producers, with only 35 percent of premises registered. The number of animals registered is much lower.
Still, USDA has several tracking programs designed specifically for exports. USDA has the “Beef Export Verification” program to provide full traceability for meat going to Japan.
Lee said the government will spend 13.3 billion won ($10 million) to allow the process to take root this year. The National Agricultural Products Quality Management Service will be in charge of ferreting out violations in the coming months, Yonhap reported.
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Officials at MIFAFF, in charge of the country’s farm policies, said there will be a grace period of two months so producers and retailers can implement the necessary changes. Fines up to five million won ($3.9 million) will be levied on violators starting in September, Yonhap reported.
Yonhap reported the officials said the need to keep better track could cause producer prices to go up by 10 percent, although this may not be fully reflected in the price of beef since the tracking system is run by the government.
Ordinary consumers who want to know details about the meat they are buying can use their mobile phone or computer to check the special identification tracking numbers on meat packages. The 12-digit numbers will tell consumers the farmer or ranch that raised the cattle, the type of cattle and its age, and the quality level of the meat, Yonhap reported.
Lee said that while the system is for domestically grown cattle and beef, work is under way to expand this to imported meat by late 2010. “Imported beef will also be tracked by using radio frequency identification tags that will store information provided by importers,” he said, Yonhap reported.
U.S. beef exports to South Korea could then be hurt, as South Koreans may use the fact of the meat’s insufficient traceability as an excuse to keep it out.