Wary, they say, about health concerns with U.S. beef, a group of 19 South Korean lawmakers submitted bills this week to tighten safeguard measures on imported beef and rice, Yonhap News reports.

The bills' major requirements, submitted predominantly by Democratic Labor Party (DLP) politicians, would require country-of-origin labeling on all beef and rice served in restaurants and school cafeterias, and would ban genetically modified food from school menus.

"If we can't prevent the import of beef that has a risk of mad cow disease, at least we should guarantee consumers with the right to know," the DLP's Rep. Kang Ki-kap said.

The report says only 2.7% of South Korean restaurants are currently required to use origin-labeled food ingredients because the existing food-hygiene law applies only to firms of more than 300 square meters. Schools are exempt.

Meanwhile, South Korea's agricultural quarantine service announced early this week that no bone chips or "higher-than-permissible levels of dioxins" were found in 20 tons of U.S. beef that arrived late last month. Yonhap reports that six more shipments of U.S. beef -- another 20 tons -- are undergoing or awaiting inspection.

More than 100 tons of U.S. beef are expected to arrive in South Korea by the end of May, with authorities expecting around 5,000 tons of U.S. beef to be imported monthly, starting in June. Talks between Seoul and Washington regarding loosening of the South Korean import restrictions to include bone-in beef are expected later this month.
-- Joe Roybal