More headaches for beef industry

Thursday, July 3, 2008

We hope the folks in charge of promoting beef have a good supply of aspirin; their job must be quite a headache.

After 41⁄2 years of being banned by an overblown mad cow scare, U.S. beef was in the process of returning to the South Korean market.

The process was helped along by the election President Lee Myung-bak, a former auto company CEO dedicated to opening up more trade with the West.

When thousands of nationalistic workers wanted to protest against the new president's policies in general, however, the resumption of beef imports was a convenient issue.

Last Saturday, about 15,000 protesters clashed with riot police, who used water cannons and fire extinguishers to keep them away from the Blue House, the Korean equivalent of, you guessed it, the White House.

U.S. beef is being imported into Korea, all right, but it's available only in a few stores, not mass marketed by chain stores that are afraid of a public backlash.

It seems ludicrous that protesters would riot about the tiny chance they could contract disease from the same safe supply of meat millions of Americans and others around the world enjoy, while living only miles from an unstable, nuclear-armed dictatorship.

While Korea is far away, a big beef recall is closer to home.

Nebraska Beef of Omaha has recalled nearly 532,000 pounds of ground beef produced on five dates between May 16 and June 24. That beef was linked to illness caused by the E. coli bacteria in Michigan and Ohio between May 31 and June 8.

Symptoms of E. coli infection can include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and fever. Most people recover within 5 to 7 days.

What's to be done?

The mad cow problem, in our opinion, has been adequately addressed. Feed of the type that spreads it has been banned, and cattle older than 30 months were already being kept out of the pipeline to Korea.

No processor can afford the bad publicity and economic loss of recalling half a million pounds of meat. They'll either correct the problem or go out of business.

As for the consumer, they should do what they always should have done: make sure meat is prepared properly.

Hamburger should be thoroughly cooked, and, if possible, a digital thermometer should be used to make sure it has been heated to at least 160 degrees.

People should also wash their hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.

There's nothing like a juicy steak or hamburger right off the grill. That's something that won't be changed by political riots abroad or temporary setbacks here.

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