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Food Safety Fears Increasing

Posted October. 27, 2005 04:22,   


“I’ve never been caught in a test, and I’ve imported 2,000 tons of crabs over the last six years,” said one importer. “Imported goods usually pass inspection, unless the box stinks.”

Trucks carrying marine products were entering a cold storage facility at Gamcheon Port in Saha-gu, Busan, where 40 percent of all imported marine products come through.

The marine products in bonded warehouse will undergo a four-day quarantine and a customs inspection by the National Marine Products Quarantine Agency (NMPQA).

However, the importer also said, “The inspection was done only formally, so it’s difficult to sort out inferior products.”

The public’s distrust of food safety has reached an alarming level. There is a growing concern for the decline of safe food that people can choose from to eat, whether it be imports or exports, agricultural products or marine products.

Malachite green, a bleaching agent, and parasite eggs have been found in imported food.

Two ships carrying Chinese kimchi arrived at the Pyeongtaek Harbor, which handles 52 percent of Korea’s imported kimchi on October 25. The Pyeongtaek Test Agency for Imported Food under the Food and Drug Administration in Gyeongin is responsible for testing and gathering 14 samples out of 21,000 boxes of kimchi. However, the office only has one staff who tests imported kimchi at the bonded warehouses scattered across eight import inspection sites in Southern Gyeonggi Province.

The situation is the same at Gamcheon Port in Busan. Inspector Kang Min-jin, who was testing for lead with a metal detector, was assigned a total of 18,400 boxes of Chinese yellow corvine to test on October 25 alone.

The Busan branch of the NMPQA has eight times more cases to test than it did in 1996 but, the number of inspectors has fallen from 53 to 44.

Since its establishment in September 2004, the Pyeongtaek Test Agency for Imported Food (PTAIF), which has four staff members, is being operated as a temporary organization, not as formal one.

In addition, the test standards used by the office of inspection’s efforts are often an example of “too little, too late,” making early detection of tainted imports almost impossible.

A PTAIF official said, “One or two food samples out of 2,000 imported food samples tested as unfit for import, but imported kimchi has never been declared unfit for import.” It is because the kimchi test has so far only focused on three categories: smell and form, preservative level, and coloring matter.

According to the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs (KIHASA), Korea’s imported food level has tripled since 1998. In particular, the volume of Chinese imported food has soared five times during the same period.

Hee-Kyung Kim Eun-Woo Lee susanna@donga.com libra@donga.com