Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hey, Honey, Does This Beef Smell Funny?

Members of civic groups opposed to the sale of U.S. beef throw cow manure inside the Lotte Mart Sangmu branch in Gwangju yesterday. Newsis, which transmitted the photo, blurred their faces. Lotte Mart introduced U.S. beef yesterday, the first time a nationwide supermarket has sold it in more than three years.

Lotte Mart trumpeted its rollout of U.S. beef with full fanfare. First, the store sent out an announcement on Wednesday, talking about how much cheaper the meat would be than the Korean or Australian offerings.

Then Lotte followed the standard Korean marketing plan: posing models next to the beef to generate even more press.

“The news that Lotte will be the first chain store to sell U.S. beef received plenty of publicity,” said Gwak Gye-yeong, salesperson at the Seoul Station branch of Lotte.
What Lotte didn’t count on was a rush of protesters, some throwing dung, who forced six of the chain’s 53 stores to stop selling the beef yesterday.

The stores opened at 10 a.m. Less than an hour later, about 100 people from the civic group called the Korea Alliance Against the Kor-US FTA stormed into the Seoul Station branch, fought past riot police and held a sit-in.

The Seoul Station, Chungju, Anseong, Sangmu, Cheongju and Gwangju World Cup branches had to stop selling the meat because of the protestors. Chungju and Cheongju are in North Chungcheong. Anseong and Sangmu are located in Gyeonggi and Gwangju, respectively.

Yesterday was the first day the meat has been ever sold by large supermarket chain stores in more than three years, since fears of mad cow disease brought a ban on the beef.

More than 100 kilograms were sold before the protestors rushed in at Seoul Station.

Even after the sales were stopped, customers there asked for the U.S. beef. A woman in her late 30s who declined to give her name, said she wasn’t worried about mad cow disease. “I stayed in Los Angeles for two months last year. Nothing happened to me,” she said.

She said she couldn’t understand the protesters. “I know the cow growers are not well-off, but what about the city dwellers?”

Lotte said it had sold an estimated 2 tons, or 35 million won worth of U.S. beef, as of 2 p.m. yesterday. The amount was four times more than the import beef sales last week.

Lotte Mart, the country’s third biggest supermarket chain, prepared 10 tons of sirloin, rib eye, chuck short rib and chuck, all choice grade, which is equal to Korea’s first grade. They also lowered the price for a promotion. “Lotte is not making any direct profits from today’s sales,” said a Lotte Mart employee who declined to be identified.

One hundred grams (3.5 ounces) of non-frozen top sirloin sold for 1,550 won ($1.70). The same part from a Korean cow is sold for 6,000 won. Each customer was limited to a purchase of 1 kilogram.

Lotte will continue selling beef and the sales at the four will also resume in the near future, said Gwak.

By Hwang Young-jin Staff Writer[]


Brendon Carr
Posted July 14, 2007 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

"I would be interested in knowing how ROK law allows such behavior. If groups want to protest, I don’t disagree, but is damaging private property or disrupting business activity allowed?"

Come on now — how long have you lived here in Korea?

What they did was flatly illegal. And nobody — other than you, Mr. Foreigner — cares.

Unlawful protest activity is generally not stopped by police (riot police allow lead pipe-wielding “civic group” numbskulls vent their spleens rather than stand their ground and enforce the law), nor is it often punished by the court. “The Law” gives way to a host of other considerations, including “pure intent” (i.e., the rest of us must be compelled to continue to subsidize their loss-making farming activity) and “social perspective” (i.e., the Yankee and the Jap will accept any provocation without consequence — only China and North Korea are to be feared). Fight your way in through the police (probably not that hard), fling turds around a supermarket and scupper the sale of US beef? You get a suspended sentence. Or a cookie, since you’re “on message” with the mercantilist establishment.

If you think Seoul would carry out its harassment of a Chinese private-equity fund as this government is doing to Lone Star, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. The Chinese government would not tolerate such abuse. But the Koreans are afraid of the Chinese; there is no similar fear of Uncle Sugar. Perhaps there should be. Teaching the Koreans some fear that there might be consequences from pissing in America’s cornflakes would do wonders for the bilateral relationship.

What I suggest is strictly reciprocal trading relations as suggested by (ugh) Tom Clancy. If American goods and services aren’t welcome in Korea, then perhaps the welcome mat at the Port of Long Beach ought to be reconsidered.

And no, despite being great fun, the fact that enforcement of laws simply melts away before social pressure is decidedly not good for Korea’s desire to become a hub of anything. If those dippy farmers wanted to stand out in front of the Lotte Mart, on public property, and hector people entering and leaving the store, I’d have no problem with that. However, that the state would not take measures to ensure they couldn’t barge into Lotte’s private property with their bucket of feces is just another reason for the “Korea Discount” — it’s a sign that rule of law is not established here.

One possible saving grace is that the photo in question of the dung-flinging protestor was taken in Kwangju, Ground Zero for demented anti-US hysteria.

Max Watson

I was craving a nice affordable steak yesterday evening after having read about the beef on sale. I plotted out to go to Lotte Mart, but instead diverted to the easier Grand Mart where all they’ve currently got is Australian and Korean beef. Like always I didn’t buy any.

Earlier I was discussing my steak plans with a Korean who informed me that he wouldn’t eat American beef because he doesn’t want to get mad cow disease. I laughed and began schooling him. There’s been 140 cases humans getting the sickness, out of a world population of 6 billion. The link to getting the disease from eating tainted meat is only hypothesized. Further, if a cow got sick in Korea, do you think that the public would find out? Hell no. There’s been cases in Hong Kong and Japan, but none here. Korea can’t report it, the domestic beef industry would fold because everyone would start buying imported beef.

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