FOSTER KLUG Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON
The Bush administration supports beef packaging labels showing the ages of cows that were slaughtered as a way to ease tensions in South Korea where massive protests have threatened the pro-American government, a senior State Department official said Thursday. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alexander Arvizu indicated that American beef exporters identifying the age of the cows used in their beef cuts could be a face-saving solution to a "very tense and dicey situation right now in Korea." "The key would be for American exporters to work with Korean importers to come up with some kind of system, or mechanism, that would be transparent to the Korean consumers," Arvizu told reporters. "That's something that this administration will certainly support." Such an approach could be a way to address anger in South Korea without altering an April agreement that fully resumes beef trade shut down after a case of mad cow disease was detected in the U.S. in 2003. South Korea was the third-largest overseas customer for U.S. beef until it banned imports. The Bush administration has said it will not renegotiate the deal signed by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and President Bush. The accord was supposed to have settled a major irritant in ties between the allies, but thousands of antigovernment protesters have since taken to the streets to voice concerns over the safety of U.S. beef. The entire South Korean Cabinet offered to resign earlier this week to quell public outrage. Beef age is an important matter for South Korean officials, who are in Washington looking for assurances that the U. S. will not ship beef from cattle older than 30 months, even though the recently settled pact would allow it. Younger cattle are believed to be less susceptible to mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Arvizu's comments come as South Korea's top trade envoy, Kim Jong-hoon, travels to Washington to meet today with his U.S. counterpart, Susan Schwab. Kim told reporters he would try to get Washington to approve measures under which the beef industry would voluntarily agree not to ship meat from cattle older than 30 months.