No indication from South Korea on lifting beef ban imposed after BSE case: Ritz

South Korea has given no indication when it will lift a temporary ban on Canadian beef despite reassurances from the federal government about a case of mad cow disease found last month in Alberta.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz was in the country this week as part of a trade mission aimed at bolstering exports to Asia.

Ritz said he urged South Korea to lift the ban, noting that Canada’s official international status as a controlled risk country for bovine spongiform encephalopathy hasn’t changed.

“They seem to be going more on the court of public opinion as opposed to using science as the right tool to move forward in this regard,” Ritz said from Tokyo during a conference call Friday.

“We are going to continue to put pressure on them. They do have a group coming to Canada next week. Hopefully that will help underscore that everything that we are doing is in Korean consumers’ best interests.”

South Korea is one of six countries that imposed temporary trade restrictions on beef imports from Canada after a breeding cow was found in February with BSE.

The other countries include China, Taiwan, Peru and Belarus. Indonesia has suspended imports of non-edible bone meal.

Canada and South Korea have a free trade agreement that went into effect on Jan. 1 — Canada’s first free trade agreement in the Asia Pacific region.

Canadian food and agriculture exports to Korea totalled $622 million in 2014.

“Concluding a free trade agreement is one thing, making it work on a day-to-day basis for our producers and our processors is, of course, another thing,” he said.

Ritz said the BSE case wasn’t raised by officials in Vietnam or Japan, the other countries that were visited during the trade trip.

Dave Solverson, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said officials he spoke with in these two countries suggested that they have no concerns.

“The only question they had was when can you send us more beef,” he said.

Ritz said he also reassured Japanese officials about the quality and reliability of Canadian grain shipments.

According to the federal government, Japan is Canada’s third-largest trading partner in agriculture and food, and second largest market for meat and cereals, with sales last year worth $4.1 billion.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency continues to investigate the Alberta BSE case.