South Korean Eating Beef
South Korean has lifted the ban on the cattle feed Zilmax. The additive increases the size of cows, prior to their slaughterKim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

South Korea has said it will allow the use of a controversial animal feed additive that is banned by a number of European countries and China.

Imports and domestic sale of beef from cattle given zilpaterol will now be permitted.

Zilpaterol, trade name Zilmax, an additive made by a subsidiary of global pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co, is used to boost cattle growth in the weeks before slaughter.

A spokesperson from the South Korea's food ministry told Reuters news agency that imports of beef muscle with 1 part per billion (ppb) of zilpaterol, 5ppb in beef liver, and 10bbp in beef kidney were approved in late August.

'Scientifically safe'

"The approved levels are scientifically safe, even if consumers have them for the rest of their lives," the official said.

"The decision has come after asking farmers via months of public notices," he added, noting that the approved levels were lower than in other countries.

South Korea first announced its intention to alter its zero-tolerance policy on zilpaterol-based drugs in October 2013, following a risk assessment.

Seoul's shifting stance on the use of zilpaterol in food marks a turnaround. In 2013, the country suspended some American beef imports, after two shipments were found to carry a trace of the additive.

The additive was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2006.

South Korea imports beef from the United States, Australia and New Zealand.