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Hopes For Speedy Pacific Rim Resolution Fading

Hopes for a speedy resolution to the ongoing tug-of-war to reopen Japanese and South Korean markets to U.S. beef seem to be fading.

This week, South Korea said its market would remain closed to U.S. indefinitely until Washington provides substantial proof of the exact age of the Alabama cow found infected with BSE in mid March, the Korea Herald reports.

Meanwhile, Japan restructured its seven-member Food Safety Commission, an independent government body charged with conducting scientific risk assessments in an objective and impartial manner. The government claims the reshuffling was intentional but others say it was necessary due to resignations by members who favored of a more cautious approach to restarting the beef trade. Nonetheless, starting over from scratch is likely to delay a resolution.

Seoul previously had postponed resumption of U.S. beef imports, which were expected to resume in April, until sometime in May after the discovery of the third U.S. case of BSE.

"We cannot reopen our borders to U.S. beef until we receive convincing scientific evidence proving the exact age of the affected cow," said Kim Chang-seob, a South Korean Ag Ministry official. "So, we don't know when imports will resume."

South Korea claims the latest data from Washington carried testimonies of veterinarians and lacked scientific evidence it could use to determine whether the Alabama beef cow was born before the U.S. imposed its feed ban. Seoul says the January agreement for resuming U.S. beef imports, banned since December 2003, called for a halt to imports if BSE was found in cattle born after the U.S. imposed its feed ban on mammalian protein.

USDA has tracked the cow to 13 premises and 32 movements during its lifetime, but has yet to confirm her exact age. -- Joe Roybal