By Dow Jones Business News, November 01, 2013, 02:26:00 AM EDT
By In-Soo Nam
SEOUL--South Korea said Friday it may lift its ban on the use of an animal feed additive in meat early next year--a
move that could lead to the resumption of some U.S. beef imports suspended last month.
A latest government risk assessment found zilpaterol, a controversial feed ingredient known by the brand name Zilmax,
could be permitted at certain levels, said Son Seong-wan, director of livestock products standard division at South
Korea'sMinistry of Food and Drug Safety.
"The tolerable level hasn't been decided yet, but the permissible amount would be that which doesn't affect human
safety even for a lifetime intake," Mr. Son said. He said that after a final ministry review, the government may lift
the ban in February or March.
South Korea in early October suspended some U.S. beef imports after an earlier U.S. probe found zilpaterol in meat
supplied by the U.S. unit of Brazilian meatpacker JBS SA (JBSAY, JBSS3.BR).
The Asian country accounts for about 11% of U.S. beef exports.
Korea is among a number of Asian countries, including China, that hasn't approved zilpaterol for use in meat.
The discovery came after Merck & Co. ( MRK ), the maker of Zilmax, suspended sales of the feed additive in the U.S. and
Canada in August amid animal-welfare concerns. Merck said it would halt sales until it completed an investigation into
whether Zilmax was the cause of lameness and immobility that Tyson Foods Inc. (TSN) and other meatpackers suspected
could be associated with the drug.
Zilpaterol and ractopamine, another feed additive that has been widely used in the U.S., are in a category of drugs
called beta-agonists that are mixed into feed for cattle, hogs and other animals during the final weeks before slaughter
to promote weight gain by stimulating the growth of lean muscle instead of fat.
Mr. Son said Friday the government will decide on the tolerable level of zilpaterol after taking into account the
recommendations on the additive due next month by a joint Food and Agriculture Organization and the Word Health
Organization expert committee.
U.S. beef imports are a sensitive trade issue in South Korea. In 2008, huge street demonstrations continued for months
in Seoul and other cities in protest at a government decision to lift an import ban on U.S. beef products amid food-
safety concerns following the 2003 outbreak of mad-cow disease in the U.S.
The public protests eased after Seoul and Washington agreed to some restrictions on U.S. beef imports, including the
age of cattle from which beef can be imported.
Write to In-Soo Nam at email@example.com
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