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[Editorial] Origin Labeling Rules Must Be Clear

Posted July. 09, 2008 07:48,   


Country of origin labeling regulations on beef served by restaurants and refectories were put into effect Tuesday. Given that Korean beef is three times as expensive as American beef, the new regulations should be strictly enforced in order to protect consumers and cattle farmers in Korea.

Over 600,000 shops and establishments are subject to the revised labeling rules. If retailers, such as meat shops and supermarkets, which were already subject to the rules, are included, the total number of businesses obliged to follow the regulations increases to 1.08 million. Although some restaurants specified the country of origin of beef used in meat-based dishes from the first day of implementation, many more neglected to properly put the required information. That is because a lot of small restaurants are still unaware they are subject to the labeling rules. Moreover, some restaurants had to change their new menus and notice boards, costing them hundreds of thousands of won, because the government’s policy has been inconsistent. This begs the question: why are restaurants still confused and unprepared even though the country of origin labeling system has already been implemented?

The revised act stipulates that those who intentionally mismark the origin of beef will face a jail term of less than three years or fines of less than 30 million won. If restaurants do not mark the origin of beef, they will face fines of less than 10 million won. Nonetheless, it is a big burden to restaurant owners.

The government should have given sufficient time for restaurants to adjust to the new regulations. It should have amply informed them on how to specify country of origin information with the help of local government bodies and restaurant associations before it introduced such strict rules.

The government plans to run a special supervisory team of some 4,700 members until the end of the year. From next year, over 600 supervisors, including volunteers and officials from the Korean Food and Drug Administration, will take full charge of cracking down on violators and educating eateries. However, the government should not assume that it has prepared all necessary measures to settle the origin labeling system. Rather, it should further draw up measures that can induce voluntary participation from restaurants and sternly punish violators as a warning to others.

The Lee Myung-bak administration has not still come to its senses, even though the whole country buckled under the American beef scare. After many twists and turns, U.S. beef has begun to be sold. However, the government may breed public distrust and fear against American beef once again by failing to properly implement origin labeling rules. Even though U.S. beef is considered to be safe, if consumers are cheated and have to eat American beef without their knowledge, this will provide another excuse for more candlelight rallies.