The presidential office on Sunday rebuffed increasing calls to halt quarantine inspections on US beef imports after an American dairy cow was found to have mad cow disease last week.
"Judging by information that we have it suffices to enhance quarantine inspections," senior presidential secretary for public affairs Choe Guem-nak told reporters.
He was responding to growing pressure from both the ruling and opposition parties to suspend the import process.
"A halt of quarantine inspections of imported US beef is deemed excessive, based on the international standards and norms," the official said.
The government plans to dispatch a team of inspectors to the US on Monday. Any decision will be made depending the result of the survey, he added.
Park Geun-hye, the leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, joined the opposition parties in calling for the suspension Friday, saying the government should make clear to the public that public safety was more important than avoiding trade disputes with the US
"The government should halt quarantine inspections until it secures clear information that can assure the public. If a final analysis result reveals there is any risk in safety, it should stop the imports, too," Park told reporters during her visit to the South Gyeongsang Province.
Park is a strong candidate for the party in the upcoming December presidential election.
If quarantine inspections are halted, Korea can still import US beef but cannot distribute it to consumers.
As for the government's decision not to halt quarantine inspections, she said the Korean public would feel uneasy because they would not be sure whether it was safe to eat US beef.
The Lee Myung-bak administration faced its biggest-ever crisis in 2008 when its decision to resume imports of US beef triggered massive protests.
Mad cow disease can cause a deadly brain disease in people who eat tainted beef.
The main opposition party has urged the administration to ban imports of American beef.
Lee Yong-sup, chief policymaker of the Democratic United Party, said on Saturday the government's move to enhance quarantine inspections, instead of halting them, would be ineffective in protecting the health of the public.
The lawmaker also said that he will push the National Assembly to revise existing laws to tighten the current import health requirements, if the government continues to ignore his calls.
Choe of the presidential office added that if risk is raised over US beef, Seoul will take immediate and swift action.
Agriculture Minister Suh Kyu-yong said Washington's report showed the US cow that died of a bovine spongiform encephalopathy was over 10 years old and that it had not entered the food chain.
Under such circumstances, there was no reason for Seoul to stop US beef from going through customs clearance, he said.
Korea is the world's fourth-largest buyer of US beef, buying 107,000 tons of the meat, worth US$563 million (S$707), in 2011.
Other top importers of American beef ? Mexico, Canada, Japan and the European Union ? are also still buying, while Thailand and Indonesia have stopped temporarily.