South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo Thursday urged people to end their protests against the resumption of U.S. beef imports, saying his government "did its best" to secure stricter import terms, Yonhap news agency reported.
"It is time for us to look at the future, not the past," Han said in a public statement. "The additional agreement with Washington may not be perfect, but believe that the government did its best to safeguard the people's health and that it will conduct sufficient countermeasures."
Han's statement came amid signs of intensifying domestic protests, following the government's earlier announcement to officially resume U.S. beef imports.
The resumption of U.S. beef imports has again sparked fierce criticism from those who question the effectiveness of the new safeguards, with thousands of people holding overnight protests in Seoul.
In last week's Seoul-Washington talks set up to quell South Koreans' concerns over mad cow disease, U.S. meat producers agreed to enforce a voluntary age verification system to avoid shipping beef from cattle older than 30 months. Older cattle are considered more susceptible to mad cow disease.
But critics of the deal believe that the latest agreement is insufficient as it does not legally require U.S. exporters to limit beef shipments.
The U.S. beef was banned by South Korea in late 2003 when a case of mad cow disease was found in the U.S. state of Washington.
The restrictions were partially lifted in 2006, but imports were halted again last October after bone fragments were discovered in U.S. shipments in violation of the import terms at that time.
On April 18, South Korea and the U.S. reached an agreement to resume U.S. beef imports, leading to public protests in South Korea due to fear of mad cow disease.