UPDATE 1-S.Korea retailers halt US beef sales, govt may act

Wed Apr 25, 2012 7:56am IST

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SEOUL, April 25 (Reuters) - Two major South Korean retailers halted sales of U.S. beef after an outbreak of mad cow disease as the country's agriculture ministry looked set to move towards banning quarantine inspections, a move that would effectively end imports.

Lotte Mart, a unit of Lotte Shopping Co., said it had suspended sales due to what it said was "customer concerns", as did Home Plus, a unit of Britain's Tesco PLC .

South Korea imported imported 107,000 tonnes of U.S. beef last year, or 37 percent of total imports, according to agriculture ministry data.

Officials at the ministry said an outright import ban was unlikely.

"We need to find out what exactly happened in the U.S...We will make a decision soon over necessary measures," a spokesman at the Korean agriculture ministry said.

"It won't be an import ban, but possibly a quarantine suspension."

Shares in the fisheries and chicken industries jumped, with Dongwon Fisheries spiking 10.3 percent as of 0203 GMT.

South Korea banned imports of American beef in 2003 following an outbreak of mad cow disease but eased the ban later by allowing imports of boneless beef from cattle younger than 30 months.

U.S. authorities reported the country's first case of mad cow disease in six years on Tuesday and swiftly assured consumers and global importers that there was no danger of meat from the California dairy cow entering the food chain.