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S. Koreans Have New Regard for U.S. Beef

U.S. beef is on sale again in South Korean stores after months of protests spurred by fears of mad cow disease.
U.S. beef is on sale again in South Korean stores after months of protests spurred by fears of mad cow disease. (By Blaine Harden -- The Washington Post)
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A television news program aired thinly sourced -- and later, scientifically refuted -- claims that Koreans carry a gene making them more susceptible to mad cow disease than Americans. Rumors spread that school lunch programs would soon be the dumping ground for deadly U.S. beef.

Leftist labor groups and political parties that had been defeated by Lee's party in a 2007 election seized on the protests -- and on ambient anti-American sentiment in South Korea -- to embarrass the president and blunt his authority. Their organizational skills and money helped fuel the candlelight rallies.

On many nights, the rallies turned into violent confrontations with police. When candles had burned out and children had gone home with their parents, a hard-core group of protesters often attacked riot-control buses, slashing tires and smashing windows.

Lee's government was weakened. His entire cabinet offered to resign, and several senior advisers quit. Under pressure, Lee demanded a new deal with the United States that requires that all U.S. beef exported to South Korea come from cattle slaughtered before they are 30 months old, which is believed to reduce the risk of mad cow disease.

In addition, the president apologized twice on national television.

Although many protesters said they would not be content until Lee resigned, their major demand had been met. Rallies in Seoul petered out over the summer.

At E-Mart, signs above the meat counter explain why U.S. beef is safe, nutritious and delicious.

On a recent morning, some shoppers seemed to need reassurance. They read the signs carefully and asked butchers if the beef was really safe. Many shoppers, though, simply grabbed U.S. beef and moved on.

Shin Mija, 40 was caught in the middle. She was happy to be able to buy U.S. beef again but said her two teenagers would not eat it. During the spring and summer, she said, her children had been convinced by protesters that American beef would give them mad cow disease.

Shin bought it anyhow. She said she would tell her kids it came from Australia.

Special correspondent Stella Kim contributed to this report.

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