South Korea: Where Cows Fear the Needle

Ever talked to someone who takes blood from cows for a living? I have.

Last year, I taught a English class to newly hired Incheon civil servants. Among them was a cool guy named "Iron" (정철). He majored in veterinary medicine and his job consists of traveling to farms all over the city, drawing blood from cows, and then taking the blood samples to a lab and having them tested for various diseases.

On Saturday, he got married. His wedding was held in a city (광주) about 4 hours drive away, so he chartered a bus to transport his coworkers and others who wanted to attend. Never one to turn down an opportunity to eat, I hopped on the bus.

If you've never traveled on a private bus in Korea, you've never lived. Though we departed around 7:30 AM, the alcohol was flowing before 8 AM (yes, sir, Koreans know how to party) and the tongues around me were magically loosened.

Almost all the people inside the bus were veterinarians employed by the government. I hit it off with one guy, whom I have nickednamed "Akina" (아끼나). Like my friend "Iron," he spends a lot of quality time with bovines. His line of work is not suitable for the fainthearted. Cows don't appreciate being poked with needles. Akina had to be taken to the emergency room one time when an angry cow smashed him against the side of a stall.

I asked him which part of the cows body is most suitable for extracting blood from. He said the portion right under the tail. I had no idea.

I asked him about the size of the farms. He said that the largest ones would have about 70-80 head of cattle, while the smallest ones would have one cow.

So then I asked, "Does the local government test every cow for disease or just a sampling of cows?" He informed me that Korean farmers do not give their cows antibiotics, so the government tests every single cow for disease. All. Of. Them.

Folks, I'm seriously impressed. South Korea has got its act together. It's true that there are no large farms here, and thus the production cost for all kinds if meat is quite high. Meat prices here are extremely high, some say the highest in the world. IMHO, that's a good thing both for public health and for the environment.

In comparison, I'm frightened by the state of the meat industry in the US. It just happens that the very weekend which I spent talking to Akina, my favorite journalist Nicholas Kristof wrote two sobering pieces about an outbreak of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) among pigs in Indiana.

Read it over your morning bacon and see if you feel the need to take some Pepto Bismal afterwards. The US, with its gigantic farms and unrestrained antibiotic usage, is ripe for this kind of outbreak. I'm worried.

4 comments:

  1. Since they tested every single cow, the Korean government does put a lot of money on food safety. Surely, people benefits from this policy, at the same time, they must live with the high price. I wonder if all common Koreans enjoy this expensive but definitely safe beef. Is there a balance point between the complete safety of food and the reasonable price? Or, is there other relatively economic way to guarantee the food safety?

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  2. I agree. I've also read in the news that they'll soon start selling cloned meat in US supermarkets. I also read Europe won't import US or Canadian meat because of the estrogen that they are given. And I've read that eating meat and dairy that has been given antibiotics might be a reason for the high rate of antibiotic resistant diseases that are springing up. And I read in a book that the way livestock is fed on large farms makes their meat less nutritious and changes the fat content to fat that is much worse for human health.

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  3. I agree. I've also read in the news that they'll soon start selling cloned meat in US supermarkets. I also read Europe won't import US or Canadian meat because of the estrogen that they are given. And I've read that eating meat and dairy that has been given antibiotics might be a reason for the high rate of antibiotic resistant diseases that are springing up. And I read in a book that the way livestock is fed on large farms makes their meat less nutritious and changes the fat content to fat that is much worse for human health.

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  4. Recently, the Philippines government had to have thousands of pigs be burned alive. They were infected of E-bola virus. It looks like virus (on food, animals etc....) is becoming common. What will happen with us if all food or anything become contaminated? I wish government in every country is strict on imposing such law.

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