President Obama has failed to overcome obstacles to a free trade agreement with South Korea, as he and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak stumbled Thursday over disputes on American beef.

US beef exports to South Korea have been restricted since 2003 amid an outbreak of mad cow disease, though the US still accounted for 37 percent of Korea’s beef imports over the first nine months of the year.

If the beef industry had a time to think about protecting its business by protecting the public, that time would be now.