The beef crisis has sparked massive demonstrations in Seoul in recent weeks with tens of thousands of protesters demanding the import deal be scrapped or renegotiated.

 

Lee Myung-bak, the president, signed a controversial accord on April 18 to resume importing US beef, which entails lifting almost all quarantine restrictions imposed over fears of mad cow disease.

 

But the protests have forced South Korean authorities to delay the implementation of the new quarantine standards.

 

On Monday major media outlets including the national JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported that Lee's cabinet was planning to quit on Tuesday.

 

Lee's office said it could not confirm the reports.

 

Looming crisis

 

The government is accused of not doing enough 
 to reduce the risk of mad cow disease [EPA]
The deal to resume US beef imports has come under fire amid widespread public perceptions that it fails to offer sufficient protection from possible mad cow disease by allowing imports of beef from older cattle, considered at greater risk of the brain-wasting illness.


Last month, Lee made a public apology over the government's handling of the sensitive import deal, vowing to press ahead with reforms and overcome a looming political crisis resulting from the resumption of US beef imports.

 

"I will overcome the crisis the country now faces ... by pushing ahead with incessant change and reform together with people," he said amid calls for his resignation.

 

Both Seoul and Washington say US beef is safe, citing Paris-based World Organisation for Animal Health but protesters say they cannot trust Lee's assurances.

 

South Korea banned American beef since the first case of the disease was reported in the US in late 2003.

 

Scientists believe the brain-wasting disease spreads when farmers feed cattle recycled meat and bones from infected animals. The US banned recycled feeds in 1997.

Source: Agencies