[EDITORIALS]Division of work to blame

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[EDITORIALS]Division of work to blame

After a series of recent reports about harmful materials in food products imported from China, the latest report about Chinese-made kimchi containing parasite larvae brought about a serious backlash in Korea. Distrust spread largely about Chinese agricultural and fishery products, and many were boycotted at Korean markets. Meanwhile, China strongly complained that South Korea was oversensitively reacting to the food safety issues. Some worry that the situation will escalate to trade friction between the two countries.
However, this incident is a matter related to the health of the Korean people. The two countries must straighten out the shortcomings of the current systems to restore confidence in food administration.
China’s complaint that not all Chinese products deserve criticism is reasonable. Korean small businessmen often produce low-quality products at unsanitary factories in China and bring them into Korea at low prices. And yet, it is unreasonable for Beijing to initiate a trade dispute by picking on Seoul’s announcement of harmful food products.
The reports about unsanitary kimchi were shocking because poor inspection systems for imported food were revealed amid a situation where Chinese products came to dominate Korean tables. Last year, Chinese food products comprised 16 percent of imported agricultural products and 38 percent of imported fishery products. Some fishery products comprised half the nation’s consumption. Despite such a situation, more than 80 percent of imported foods are either checked via paperwork or by cursory inspection.
This time, parasite larvae were found in kimchi, which is not even included in the list of products for inspection. And, the system is so poor that we never know what problems will be found in what products.
There is still a limit in resolving these problems by making efforts on our part, such as reinforcing inspection systems. The best solution would be for Korean public servants to inspect food production facilities in China, in which China’s cooperation is a must. Registration systems for factories and food safety certificates also require Beijing’s cooperation.
South Korea’s president and foreign minister visited China in 2003 and agreed on the operation of a quality inspection body, but the agreement was not actively carried out because the work is divided among eight ministries in Korea. Now is the best time to clear up such administrative confusion.
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