Friday, May 16, 2008

Anti-Korean Protest by US Cows

By Michael Breen

In an unusual twist on the current U.S. beef issue, animal psychologists in the American state of Montana are reporting a growing resistance among American cows to the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

``They don't want to be eaten by Koreans," said Bucky McGee, the legendary ``cow whisperer" who has been working worldwide since the first outbreak of mad cow disease in the United Kingdom in the 1980s.

Cows are normally docent creatures, McGee said, but there have been one or two cases of violence against humans on ranches. In one incident, a man was kicked in the genitals by a cow after saying ``eum-mae," which is the Korean word for ``moo."

Other counselors, whose main jobs are to prepare cattle for their fate, say that the word is spreading like a virus that cows should feign mad cow disease to avoid being sent to Korea. ``Koreans don't have the best image in the animal kingdom so they're really scared," said one bovine therapist.

``Activists have convinced cows that they will be sent to Korea on the hoof," he said. ``Cows are not the brightest of animals and they don't realize that they'll be sent as prime cuts."

Experts say that an outbreak of feigned mad cow disease would look just like the real thing with cows foaming at the mouth, swaying about like drunks and head-butting vets. As such, it would have a devastating impact on the U.S. beef market. At present, 96 percent of U.S. beef is consumed domestically with only 4 percent exported.

Meanwhile, in Korea, tens of thousands of ardent protesters took to the streets, after being told the FTA would require them to eat contaminated meat which otherwise wouldn't be sold because the Bush Administration won't let Americans eat it. Officials have tried to clear this misunderstanding but found it difficult to battle the enormous nostalgia for candlelit protests and the thrill of discovering a protest theme after a long hiatus in anti-American activism.

In its English-language pronouncements, the government has tried to keep its commitment to the United States while trying to calm public sentiment with some new implementation criteria limiting sales. These were released in Chinese characters to Korean media so that the U.S. embassy wouldn't understand. One pledge, for example, initially proposed by the opposition United Democratic Party, is that contaminated U.S. beef will only be sold to people who have more than three apartments and whose children have dual citizenship.

One minor casualty from the furor over beef is this newspaper's Blue House reporter, Kim Yon-se. As reported in Thursday's paper, Kim has been banned for a month from the presidential offices by his colleagues for revealing a joke the President made in the United States which other journalists promised the president's aides to keep off-the-record.

The presidential witticism came at a meeting with some American business leaders about the beef deal. He said that the talks were so protracted that the two sides' negotiators must have ``reached an agreement half-asleep and half-awake at dawn." Erm, I didn't get it either. Nor did the American business leaders. But they laughed because that's what you do with presidents.

In a related development, middle school students in the American city of Wall Street staged several silent protests earlier this week after a report in the local Wall Street Journal that avian flu had reached Seoul. The report alleged that the latest outbreak had started in the southwestern Jeolla provinces and spread through most of the country.

Many said they had received text messages saying that, according to the FTA, U.S. school canteens would have to buy Korean chicken if Koreans themselves were prohibited from eating it because of bird flu. Some said they were told they would also have to eat dog meat on Fridays.

After being told these were false rumors, they admitted to being embarrassed and apologized to Koreans for their stupidity.

Michael Breen is president of Insight Communications Consultants in Seoul. He can be reached at

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