Enraged by contaminated milk, mother amasses 2,500 allies
Staff members at the Consumers Korea office in the Pearson Building, central Seoul, were rushed off their feet a couple of weeks ago, busy answering worried callers who jammed their switchboard.
"I couldn't believe my child was fed powdered milk containing heavy metals,” one mother said.
“Is my child perhaps suffering from heavy metal poisoning?” another asked.
Parents lamented that they had used an American brand of powdered milk that appeared to contain heavy metals. The incident became public when a mother took the fight to the distributer of the milk.
Yun Ji-young, 32, mother of a six-year-old daughter and a nine-month-old son, was surprised after noticing something dark sinking to the bottom of a bottle of reconstituted powdered milk. Ms. Yun called the importer and distributor and inquired about the incident, but was told it wasn't harmful.
She felt the response was unsatisfactory and tried a small test. She held a magnet against the bottle and moved it around, and was shocked to see the dark material move with the magnet.
“I was shaking and felt like my heart was going to stop,” Ms. Yun said. She reported the company to the Consumer Protection Board, and the Korea Food and Drug Administration began an investigation. They found that the dark material in the milk bottle was a heavy metal; the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry promptly suspended the distributor's operations for a month, ordering the company to fix the problem.
“The material is not directly harmful to the human body, but according to the rule that if there is a foreign material in a product, administrative proceedings must be instituted, we ordered operations to be suspended,” said Lee Sang-jin, an employee at the Agriculture Ministry's livestock hygiene department.
The distributor voluntarily recalled the powered milk but continued to say that the suspect material was not harmful to humans according to two well-known medical research institutions in the United States.
Angry consumers took action, launching a Web site last month to discuss the issue. According to Lee Seung-jun, the 30-year-old dentist who operates the site, it garnered more than 2,500 members by mid-March.
“The company kept repeating that the material is not harmful to humans, but it did not explain how the material got in during the manufacturing process,” Ms. Yun said. “I want to solve the issue properly even if I have to file a lawsuit.”
If so, she won't be alone. “There are a lot of consumers who showed interest in participating in a lawsuit,” said Kim Jeong-ja, a Consumers Korea official.
by Chung Sun-gu
For more information, call (02) 739-5441 or visit www.cacpk.org