Half-baked decision by KFDA

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Half-baked decision by KFDA

Health authorities, whose responsibility it is to protect the public’s health, are fueling consumer anxieties and fears through inconsistent and irresponsible administrative guidelines and decisions.

The Korea Food and Drug Administration ordered local ramen makers on Thursday to recall instant noodles containing excessive amount of cancer-causing benzopyrene in soups using katsuobushi, or smoke-dried bonito. They include popular ramen brands like Neoguri by maker Nongshim.

The agency reversed its initial position that the small amounts of benzopyrene found in dried soup powders were within safe levels and therefore do not require distributive action like a recall - but without a clear explanation. Its weak logic and questionable actions only undermine confidence in the health authorities and their ability to defend public safety.

Its administration issues were underscored during legislative questioning on Wednesday. Upon being bombarded with questions from opposition lawmakers, KFDA Commissioner Lee Hee-sung feebly answered that the administration will conduct supplementary investigations and remove ramen brands that contain problematic ingredients. He reiterated his agency’s official position that the benzopyrene discovered in the ramen is not harmful and therefore does not require a recall. But by the afternoon, he gave into persistent demands from lawmakers.

His comments and the agency’s follow-up actions suggest that health guidelines and policies fluctuate due to political and administrative interests rather than scientific and legal standards.

How can consumers trust the health authorities if they change their stance in less than a day? The agency said it has asked the ramen producers and distributors to “voluntarily” recall the products because the levels are not harmful. It is then totally contradictory to demand that manufacturers recall the products, and it has potentially huge ramifications for a company’s image. It can lead to business losses for no logical or scientific reason.

Confidence in the country’s food safety received a critical blow overseas, as well. Large discount stores in Taiwan and Hong Kong have already begun removing Nongshim ramen from their shelves given the news.

To win back the public’s confidence, the health agency must act on principles based on scientific and legal grounds.

Food makers should also reinforce safety measures and properly inform their consumers to regain market confidence.

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