Korea will introduce nationwide cattle and beef tracking systems starting late next year, the government said on Monday (Nov. 26). The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry said the move is an expansion of the limited tracking program that has been in place since 2004, and is expected to enhance consumer rights by providing better information. Full-fledged tracking of animals and meat can also help authorities handle animal-related diseases that can affect public health and consumption. The new system, passed by the National Assembly last week, will include time and place of birth of animals, transfers and sales, butchering and general movement of meat through the distribution chain. Cattle farms, packaging firms and retailers that fail to keep up-to-date information will be subject to fines and other administrative actions. "Because comprehensive information on cows and beef will be provided, consumers will not be overly concerned if there are reports of animal diseases in the country or abroad," a ministry official said. He said in the past mad cow reports caused consumers to stay away from all beef because there was no way to tell where the meat came from. Local cattle farmers have been pressing the government to introduce nationwide tracking systems for some time, so consumers will know for certain that the beef they are eating comes from locally raised premium hanwoo cows or from abroad. The move, farmers claimed, is important because of the expected influx of cheap meat imports as Korea signs free trade agreements and moves to open its domestic market further to foreign products. Currently, Seoul is engaged in talks with the United States and Canada to rewrite its beef import rules that may allow more beef parts to be imported. Korea opened its market to American boneless beef early this year while maintaining its ban on all Canadian beef that has been in effect since 2003.