SEOUL (AFP) — The first trader to put US beef on sale since South Korea lifted an import ban says demand has been steady, despite weeks of street protests against the supposed dangers of mad cow disease.
While other retailers are holding back, Park Chang-Gyu took the plunge on Tuesday -- a day after the first shipments were cleared for consumption.
Customers so far at his A-MEAT outlet include the prime minister, ardent fans of US beef and shoppers curious to know what all the fuss is about.
"US beef sales -- at a 30 percent discount -- until July 30!" reads a banner over a small butchers' shop, an annexe to A-MEAT's huge cold store in the Shihung district of southwest Seoul.
Park, who heads the Korea Import Beef Association, said he sold some 400 kilograms (880 pounds) on the first day Tuesday. By noon Wednesday some 30 kilograms had been bought.
"The first day of sales was not bad, partly because my shop and I were exposed to the mass media," he told AFP.
"Sales may slow down today. Business is usually up and down."
US beef, before a 2003 import ban following a US mad cow case, cost about one-third the price of its Korean equivalent.
Park said his special discount price was a factor in luring back customers. He said some 80 of the 200-member beef importers' group would take part in the discount sale nationwide.
"I hope this will help spread the idea among South Koreans that US beef is safe. They ate it before, eat it now and will eat it in the future," he said.
Prime Minister Han Seung-Soo's office bought 12 kilograms. "The prime minister himself will consume this beef to help dispel public concerns," said his spokesman.
Choi Seung-Joon, 58, who bought 10 kilograms Wednesday, was on Han's side.
"I have taken pains to come here to buy US meat to show that there are Koreans who do not belive in the politically motivated protests against US beef," he said.
"I have relatives living in the United States. I am eating the same beef, which I am sure is OK, as they are doing."
Hwang In-Shick, 48, who bought one kilogram, said: "I came here just out of curiosity. I wonder what US beef really tastes like."
A woman in her 70s ordered a tiny portion but said she had no lingering concerns.
"Take a big photo of me. I may need it as convincing evidence if I die of mad cow disease," she jokingly told photographers and TV crews.
Sales clerk Park Jong-Min, 27, said he felt slightly intimidated after the shop received a phone call complaining about the sales.
Sales were even temporarily halted Wednesday as protesters held a press conference outside the shop. But Park did receive encouragement in a fax that read: "Do not give in to the crazy candlelit vigils in protest at US beef imports."
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