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Test EVERY Cow in the Food Chain

Test EVERY Cow in the Food Chain
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Monday, December 29, 2008

Korean Courts rule in Favor of USDA, Against Korean People

USDA v. Korea

Editorial] Disappointing decision on U.S. beef petition

The Constitutional Court has ruled against a constitutional petition by 96,000 citizens claiming that the “process by which the Lee Myung-bak administration resumed imports of American beef by formalizing the move with an official announcement (gosi) in the daily government gazette (Gwanbo) was unconstitutional.” The Gwanbo is equivalent to the Federal Register in the United States. Its decision is a big disappointment for the Koreans who had hoped the court would stand in defense of the people’s safety and quarantine inspection sovereignty, because if the gosi was declared unconstitutional in accordance with the petition, which had more signatories than any in history, it would have been automatically invalidated and the Korean government would then have had the justification to renegotiate the beef deal with the United States.

The constitutional petition put before the Constitutional Court asserted that the administration’s move “significantly increases the possibility of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in humans and therefore infringes on constitutionally-guaranteed dignity and worth as humans, the right to pursue happiness, the right to life, and the right to health.” Negotiations with the United States on beef made it so that Korea accepts American beef without limits to age or parts, and that Korea cannot halt beef imports even if there is an outbreak of mad cow disease in the United States. Additional negotiations allowed for restrictions on beef from cows older than 30 months of age and on specified risk material, or SRM, but that was not a fundamental solution. It wrongly assumed that the United States had strengthened prohibitions on animal-based feed that had been relaxed, and another mistake was permitting the importation of some SRM, believing it to be parts that are safe.

Even the current head of the Ministry of Government Legislation said that the process was constitutionally flawed and that he, too, would have taken the issue to the Constitutional Court had he been in the opposition. He said that it is highly problematic, in a constitutional way, to implement something with a directive announcement (gosi) from the relevant Cabinet minister without legislation-drafting procedures, when the issue directly relates to the country’s health.

“While the gosi’s protection measures may not be perfect,” the court said it its decision, “one cannot conclude that this was wholly, or very much, an action that violated the state's constitutional duty to protect the safety of lives and bodies.” It is hard to understand how surrendering quarantine inspection sovereignty and exposing the country to the risk of mad cow disease cannot be concluded to be in inconsistent with or inadequate as far as the duty to the state. It is also disappointing that the court never even had an open oral debate that included expert testimony about a case that was the subject of intense national interest.

The mission of the Constitutional Court is to defend the basic rights of the people and weed out laws that are unconstitutional for violating those rights. The minority opinion was right in stating that the gosi “violates the petitioners’ basic rights because it inadequately carries out the state’s duty to protect basic rights regarding (the safety) of life and body.”

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