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Test EVERY Cow in the Food Chain

Test EVERY Cow in the Food Chain
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Friday, January 2, 2009

Korean 'PD Diary' Case Must Not End Here

Lim Soo-bin, the senior prosecutor of the Seoul Central Prosecutors¡¯ Office who has been investigating staff at MBCs PD Diary program for exaggerating the dangers of U.S. beef, is apparently minded to resign. Lim is said to find himself in conflict with top officials at the prosecutors¡¯ office over indicting the producers of the show.

When he announced the interim findings of his investigation on July 29, Lim said most of the ¡°PD Diary¡± reports on mad cow disease distorted the truth, including exaggerating the dangers of the bovine disease in 19 different instances, and demanded that the program¡¯s producers show up for questioning. Since then, prosecutors have not investigated the producers further and have yet to seize master tapes that contain 5,000 minutes of footage. It is difficult to understand what changes in circumstances have led the lead prosecutor to think differently now.

It is possible to grasp the difficulties faced by the prosecution. The investigation began on June 20 with the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries requesting a probe, saying the reports had damaged the ministry¡¯s image, while slandering the images of the agriculture minister and Korea¡¯s representative in beef talks with the United States. But it is true that the majority of the Korean public felt the beef accord reached between Seoul and Washington, which began on Apr. 10 -- the day after Korea¡¯s general elections -- and concluded on April 18, amounted to kowtowing to the U.S. government. Moreover, the beef talks themselves were faulty, with the Korean government failing even to question specific details, including strengthened measures banning cattle feed containing animal components. It is understandable that the lead prosecutor was surprised that the very people who signed that hasty agreement claimed their images had been tarnished.

But whether the government¡¯s image has been tarnished is a different question from whether ¡°PD Diary¡± distorted and exaggerated the facts. ¡°PD Diary¡± showed footage of a cow staggering on its way to slaughter, which was filmed to protest the abuse of animals. The cow in the footage had nothing to do with mad cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), yet ¡°PD Diary¡± led viewers toward making incorrect judgments by saying the footage they were watching of a BSE-stricken cow on its way to slaughter was ¡°shocking.¡±

And in the case of an American woman who died of Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD) that had nothing to do with beef consumption, ¡°PD Diary¡± subtitles quoted the woman¡¯s mother as saying her daughter died from variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD), the fatal human form of BSE and quite another illness. Because of these distortions, Korea became the only one out of 100 countries around the world where people held mass protests voicing their fears of mad cow disease in the streets. The social chaos brought about by that misinformation is well remembered.

Prosecutors would not have been able to say the case was full of holes if the plaintiffs had been those who suffered directly from the ¡°PD Diary¡± report, such as U.S. cattle ranchers, Koreans living in the U.S., beef importers in Korea and the businesses in Gwanghwamun, where the protests brought traffic to a halt for months. The distortion and exaggeration committed by ¡°PD Diary¡± must be investigated, and the people responsible for those acts held responsible, either through criminal or civil suits.

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