Crazy Cows & Korea

South Koreans are mad about "crazy cow" disease, as they like to call it here. Daily protests excite the area around City Hall, and President Lee Myung-bak, who took office just three months ago, has seen his approval rating drop to less than twenty percent. A ban was placed on US beef imports in South Korea in 2003, when the first of only three cases of mad cow disease in the US was found in Washington State. Last year, during Roh Moo-hyun's Presidency, US beef imports resumed, but were stopped soon after when bones and bone fragments (items which had been banned as part of the agreement) were discovered in shipments.

Lee was elected last December with a commitment to reform Korea's economy, and Koreans accepted this wholeheartedly, rewarding Lee with a landslide victory. Lee continued talks with Bush after he took office in late February this year. As part of the free trade agreement between South Korea and the US, a decision to finally lift the ban on US beef imports was reached in April.

Instead of improving relations between the US and South Korea and helping to boost the economy, as was Lee's intentions, citizens saw this as an arrogant move from the business-minded President that endangered the health and safety of Koreans. Adding fuel to the fire, a news program in Korea created a massive controversy when it decided to inform its viewers that South Koreans were more susceptible to the human variation of mad cow disease than any other ethnic group.

While smaller protests have been a daily occurrence since the announcement of the agreement in April, there were several major protests in late May and early June. These protests, with tens of thousands of citizens holding candlelight vigils and taking to the streets around City Hall, have become more violent. Hundreds of citizens were detained after these major protests and there have been hundreds of injuries to both citizens and police officers.

It's become common to see pictures of insane cows with American flag bandanas and signs supporting an impeachment of the President. While I don't think Lee is going anywhere anytime soon, I sure hope all this drama does.

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