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“What Should We Eat Then?”

Posted June. 10, 2004 21:26,   


“Although mandoo is the issue, who can guarantee the safety of other foods?” said 36-year-old housewife Cho Eun-sook in Seoul. She said, “It seems that all the foods in markets have some problems,” adding, “From now on, I will not purchase processed foods.” Are Cho’s anxieties just an overreaction influenced by the faulty mandoo crisis?

The answer seems to be “no.” In reality, many things are happening that are proving her statement: “there are no processed foods we can safely eat.” Last year, six swindlers who sold more than 102,400 kilograms of hot pepper powder colored with tech-use colorants with carcinogenic substances in them were cracked down on by police. That is the amount that 20,000 adults can have in a year. If one ingests this hot pepper powder for a long time, it can cause vomiting or facial paralysis, revealed the National Scientific Criminal Investigation Laboratory.

On top of that, other bad foods that have incensed us so far are tonic foods made of dogs infected with hydrophobia, imported crabs with lead, imported crackers including bolts, hot pepper powder mixed with steel scraps, salted seafood made with tech-use salts, earthenware manufactured with tech-use glue, and squid for sushi use that has been sterilized with tech-use chlorine dioxide.

Taking the “mandoo crisis” as an opportunity, complaints and indignations from citizens are exploding like a volcano over the indifferent government reaction and the reality of a market teeming with tainted foods.

--Concern over the ineffective crackdown by the government

Although Uetteum Foods was caught manufacturing faulty mandoo, Korean style dumplings, three times by surveillance from Paju City since 2001, they simply paid a 12 million won penalty and continued to operate their factories, having manufactured 143 million won worth of products so far.

Although the Korea Food and Drug Agency (KFDA) and local governing bodies are continuing their control over corrupt food providers, they can carry on their business because in spite of threats of business suspension, they can continue their business with only an 80,000 won penalty per day (for companies with under 30 million won annual sales). Accordingly, many people point out that strict administrative measures should be carried out, such as the cancellation of permission to do business, in order to kick them out of market.

“It is right to see that government does not even check whether or not the problematic foods have been discarded,” said Kim Hee-kyung, an executive secretary for the YMCA’s citizen’s office. She added that “this will repeat again as long as the fundamental reformation of system is delayed.”

--Light punishment

A wholesaler, Mr. Y, and a representative executive of an animal laboratory, Mr. K, who were indicted because they sold dogs infected with hydrophobia and cerebritis for use as ingredients of tonic foods were both sentenced to a year’s imprisonment and placed on two years’ probation. Although the court confirmed their deliberations over selling the dogs in which they had injected various vaccines of contagious diseases for more than three years, it made this decision.

In cases like this, criminals violating food and sanitation laws have mostly been placed on probation, or given light penalties and then released. According to the 2003 judicature yearbook, among all food and sanitation criminals, only 36 cases that account for 2.1 percent of all cases were sentenced to practical imprisonment. The others were treated with relatively weak punishments such as penalties, probations, and suspended sentences.

The developed countries such as the United States and Japan strictly apply their laws to food criminals, giving real imprisonment in almost every case.

“When we revise the law, by means of deleting the penalty decree, to give a sentence of imprisonment to food criminals guilty of bad offenses, the food businessmen will stop laughing at the laws,” said an investigator in police headquarters.

A lawyer, Jeon Hyun-hee said “it is a type of behavior of mass destruction targeted at unidentified large numbers of people. The court and the prosecution should recognize the seriousness of food crimes and deal with them in earnest.”

Tae-Hoon Lee jefflee@donga.com needjung@donga.com