SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea has lifted a de facto ban on American beef imports after the U.S. confirmed that only two shipments meant for domestic consumption were exported mistakenly, officials said.
South Korea shut its doors to U.S. beef in December 2003 after an outbreak of BSE disease in America. It partially reopened its market last year, but agreed to accept only boneless meat from cattle under 30 months old, which are thought to be less at risk of carrying the illness.
Seoul had said that it would not issue import certificates until the U.S. explained how two banned shipments, intended for domestic consumption, arrived in South Korea.
The nation's Agriculture Ministry said that it has received a confirmation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that all the U.S. beef shipments sent to South Korea, except for the 66.4 tons in the two shipments meant for American consumption, met export standards.
South Korea will "lift its suspension of issuing quarantine certificates," effective immediately, the ministry said in a statement.
Without the certificates, no imported meat can pass customs inspection.
Seoul will maintain a ban on imports from the U.S. facilities that processed the problematic beef until it is determined how the shipments ended up in South Korea, and an assurance that it will not happen again, according to the statement. The ban affects some facilities of Minneapolis, Minn.-based Cargill Inc. and Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods Inc.