South Korea will allow certain levels of animal feed additive zilpaterol in beef from June, a government official said on Tuesday, opening the door to imports of some meat containing the growth enhancer and its domestic sale.
Seoul had said in October that restrictions would be eased sometime in 2014, ending a zero tolerance policy on zilpaterol-based drugs such as Merck & Co's Zilmax.
The feed additive has been under global scrutiny since a video emerged in the United States in August showing animals struggling to walk and with other signs of distress after taking a growth drug.
South Korea suspended some U.S. beef imports for more than two months last year after traces of zilpaterol were found in two shipments.
Son Seong-wan, a director in South Korea's food ministry, told Reuters that from June the government would allow 1 part per billion (ppb) of zilpaterol in beef muscle and 5 ppb in beef liver.
He said that compared with levels of 2 ppb in beef muscle permitted in Canada and 12 ppb in beef liver in the United States.
He added that 60 days of public hearings on the move had begun in February.
Many Asian and European countries ban the import of zilpaterol-fed beef due to concerns about the side effects of additives.