Sickening agency

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Sickening agency

The Korea Food and Drug Administration’s moral hazard is acute. It was only a few days ago that the nation was shocked by the inadequate inspections of private companies commissioned to conduct food safety checkups.

Fueling the fear, lawmakers unveiled yesterday significant evidence that the agency’s management system is in serious trouble.

We are speechless that the agency knew about the risks from melamine, the harmful chemical that prompted the global scandal about toxic Chinese dairy products, but did nothing about it.

The European Union warned the agency in June about the risk of toxic food, saying that pork shipments exported to Korea were contaminated. Yet the agency didn’t recall the meat.

The agency said, in its defense, that the melamine case was a mistake. However, it is clear the agency has been derelict in its duty because its role is directly connected to people’s health.

More seriously, some of the practices of agency officials revealed at yesterday’s National Assembly inspection are undeniably crimes.

The officials took bribes from food companies in return for inappropriate labeling of questionable food imports. Yet the agency didn’t bother to inform the prosecution about its employees’ wrongdoings. The agency did not care about the people’s safety. It was only concerned about protecting its staff.

Allowing such an office to be in charge of the nation’s food safety is like allowing a cat to run a fish market.

Taking into account the importance of food safety, the government has planned to consolidate complex inspection systems into the agency. We wonder if the agency is competent enough to take on such an important task.

The Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs, which oversees the agency, should also be held accountable. Though belated, a thorough investigation should take place.

What’s more, the Board of Audit and Inspection should plan a special sweeping audit on the nation’s food safety management system. The audit board should conduct a scientific analysis and propose a “control tower” that should be fully in charge of national food safety management. This would be a great example of good governance.

It is never enough to emphasize the importance of food safety. Reform of the agency is imperative.
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