WASHINGTON – A week-long review is taking place this week by a South Korean delegation to investigate US bovine spongiform encephalopathy safeguards, according to Reuters. The delegation also plans to meet with US Department of Agriculture chief veterinarian John Clifford following the discovery of the fourth US case of BSE since 2003 one week ago in an elderly dairy cow in Tulare County north of Los Angeles.

After the cow became unable to walk or stand, it was killed and its carcass was sent to a rendering plant for tests under USDA's BSE surveillance program.

Downplaying the significance of this week’s meeting, a USDA spokesman called it routine for trading partners to seek details about animal-disease outbreaks. Last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack contacted 28 countries by mail, including major importers, to reassure them that US beef remains safe to eat.

In 2011, Canada, Mexico, Japan and South Korea were the largest markets for US beef, making up 90 percent of beef exports. USDA relays approximately 380 million lbs, worth $661 million, were shipped to South Korea in 2011.

The nine-member S. Korean delegation, consisting of government officials, academics and consumer group representatives, also plans to visit USDA laboratories in Ames, Iowa, plus visit farms, ranches and rendering plants in California before returning home on May 9.

South Korea allows importing US beef cattle less than 30 months of age if high-risk materials are removed. Seoul placed a ban on US beef after the first US BSE case was discovered in 2003 but later re-opened its market to US beef in 2008. This time, South Korea said it would strengthen its import inspections of US beef until it received additional information about US practices to prevent BSE.