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[Editorial] Agricultural Brands

Posted June. 19, 2009 04:56,   


Beef from cattle raised in Hoengseong County, Gangwon Province, is enjoying growing popularity among consumers after the country’s resumption of U.S. beef imports. Hoengseong beef costs 10,000 won (7.89 U.S. dollars) more per gram than other high-end homegrown beef and 20,000 won (15.79 dollars) more than ordinary Korean beef. Consumers, however, have frequently been duped by sellers of fake Hoengseong beef, with an agricultural cooperative in the county being the latest to commit such fraud. It advertised beef from cattle raised in other areas for 10 to 120 days as Hoengseong beef and sold it at farmers’ markets in Seoul and other provinces for more than one year.

Under standards set by the Hoengseong stock farming cooperative in 1995, beef got the Hoengseong stamp of approval if it was “first-grade beef from male cattle neutered within six months after birth in Hoengseong.” From last year, however, beef from cattle raised in the county over a certain period of time started being called Hoengseong beef and has distributed through agricultural cooperatives. The county government planned to stipulate this standard in the text from this fall. Livestock farmers there have advertised that their beef is juicy, tasty and rich in unsaturated fatty acids effective in preventing adult diseases. Do they have a secret method of turning ordinary cattle into Hoengseong beef after raising them for a couple of months?

Consumers favor agricultural products with a brand name. In 2006, 6,600 kinds of farm produce such as rice and potatoes were sold under brand names and the number of brand-name produce has grown further. If the brands are poorly managed, however, the value of the products will not be recognized by consumers. The county might have wanted to expand supply by broadening the standard of Hoengseong beef and raise profits by upgrading the value of original Hoengseong beef. If it loses consumer confidence, however, it can no longer keep its brand value.

From December, agricultural products and processed goods representing their respective provinces will be protected under something similar to intellectual prosperity rights. If a geographical name is directly linked to the value of goods, like Bordeaux wine and Vienna sausages, the right to the exclusive use of the geographical name will be protected. Criminal prosecution for selling fake products will also be strengthened. The country has 77 registered agricultural products with geographical names. They can emerge as world-class brands amid the increasing liberalization of the domestic agricultural market. To raise the value of their brands, Korean farmers must maintain product quality instead of focusing on short term gains by expanding sales.

Editorial Writer Hong Kwon-hee (konihong@donga.com)