Yesterday, while getting to know the students in a new class that I started teaching, one of my students asked me if I were afraid of Mad Cow Disease.
Whoa, wait a minute. Where the heck did that question come from?
I remembered that there had been a ban on US beef in 2003 fueled by fears that a beef shipment from the US was suspected of containing meat from an infected cow (interestingly enough the cow in question was from a Canadian ranch). And later, in 2006 once partial shipments of US beef were allowed again, some bone fragments were found in some of the beef raising fears again.
No, I told the students in the class I was not afraid of Mad Cow Disease and that as far as I knew there were no reported cases of Mad Cow in the US.
Then this morning two more students in another class asked me the same thing—if I were afraid of Mad Cow Disease. I assured them—like I had assured my students yesterday—that I wasn’t and that I hadn’t heard of any Mad Cow Scare back in the States.
And then came the clincher: they asked me why the US was trying to sell bad beef in Korea.
I haven’t checked the local news here for a few days and when I did this morning, boy was I in for a surprise.
South Korea’s government insisted Tuesday that Internet-fuelled fears of mad cow disease are groundless, as the opposition and street protesters urged it to scrap an agreement to resume US beef imports.
Opening up the beef market is a key precondition for US legislative approval of a separate and sweeping free trade pact. Opponents say Seoul has not secured enough safeguards against the dangers of mad cow disease.
Seoul agreed last month to lift the ban, on the eve of a Washington summit between Presidents Lee Myung-bak and George W. Bush.
Seoul and Washington say US beef is totally safe. Newspapers said Internet scare campaigns, and a recent TV program, were fuelling irrational fears.
“The public frenzy over fears of mad cow disease does not seem to be dying down easily,” said the Joong Ang Ilbo in an editorial headlined “Mad cow madness.”
It added: “Internet rumors and political instigations have stirred up public sentiment to the point where there is no room for scientific truth or reasonable explanations.”
Police said they are trying to track down rumormongers who use the Internet and text messages.
“We will have to investigate further if someone is masterminding the dissemination of text messages, but we believe at this moment that the masterminds can at least be charged with interference with official acts,” said Yang Geun-Won, head of the national police Cyber Terror Response Center.
One such rumor falsely alleged a huge rise in the number of US Alzheimer’s patients due to mad cow disease.
An estimated 10,000 people Friday staged a candlelit protest rally against US beef imports, and about 7,500 on Saturday.
A total of about 3,000 people including schoolchildren staged candlelit protests in two locations Tuesday, waving placards reading “Do not sell mad cow” and “Out with Lee Myung-bak.”
Leave it to the Netizens to take matters in their own hands and fuel fears and spread rumors. And you know what, people are going to believe this kind of stuff. Just like my students who came up to me this morning and told me about the Mad Cow Disease. If it’s on the Internet it has to be true, right?
And get this, some people are demanding that President Lee be impeached because of this. Sadly, cool heads are not prevailing over this Mad Cow Madness gripping the nation.
Yeah, WTF is right.