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S. Korea becomes largest importer of U.S. beef in March
SEOUL, May 15 (Yonhap) -- South Korea was the largest importer of U.S. beef in March for the second straight month, as the supply of local beef plunged after foot-and-mouth disease hit the Asian country late last year, a government report showed Sunday.

   South Korea imported 28,875 tons of U.S. beef in March, more than a three-fold increase from one year ago and a 53 percent jump from the previous month, according to Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The ministry cited the latest data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

   South Korea's imports accounted for 26 percent of the U.S. beef shipped overseas in that month, outstripping the countries that have previously been top destinations for U.S. meat, including Mexico, Japan and Canada.

   Mexico purchased 19,995 tons of U.S. beef in March, while Japan imported 15,676 tons and Canada 13,600 tons, the data showed.

   South Korea was also the biggest overseas market for the U.S. beef farmers and ranchers in February. It imported 18,889 tons of U.S. beef, accounting for 21 percent of overseas U.S. beef sales that month.

   The recent hike in U.S. beef consumption in South Korea comes in a sharp contrast with the high-profile grassroots campaigns against U.S. beef imports three years ago. Throngs of South Korean consumers took to the streets for candlelight protests for months in 2008, protesting the resumption of U.S. beef imports on concerns about mad cow disease.

   The data showed that South Korea's increased consumption of U.S. beef coincided with the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease that began to spread nationwide late last year and forced the country to cull over 3.47 million head of pigs and cows.

   According to the U.S. government data, U.S. beef exports to South Korea began to climb marginally in December to 12,292 tons from 12,053 tons in the previous month.

   But exports of U.S. beef to South Korea surged 51 percent on-month in February and then 31 percent in March, as the widespread culling of livestock began to cause public health jitters.