Sickening food fraudsA crackdown on food fraud is not just uncovering and punishing an illicit trade. It aims to protect the public from counterfeited and adulterated food and ensure the safety of what we eat and drink. Authorities must immediately disclose information on contaminated and adulterated food, remove it from store shelves and warn consumers. They must act fast to prevent consumption of those products in homes. But the recent crackdown and follow-up action from the Seoul district police after uncovering counterfeit rice seasoning powder raises questions of whether the police know the basic rules on dealing with a food fraud case.
The police recently announced they discovered manufacturers selling a condiment for steamed rice generally known as furikake made from cheap and nasty ingredients. According to the police, the seasoning powder mix had ground vegetable waste used as livestock feed as well as cigarette butts. The police should have immediately announced the brands and recalled the products especially as they are commonly consumed by children. Yet the police neither revealed the names of the companies nor made them recall the questionable products claiming that the food companies were also victims from the counterfeiters. Consumers and retailers panicked. Some retailers removed all rice seasoning brands from their shelves and food companies naturally will be hit with losses. Some are questioning if the police were not rash in their investigation as in the past when they raised a scandalous uproar and caused huge losses to dumpling makers after accusing them of using processed waste.
Police have been aggressive in their crackdown on the food industry after President Park Geun-hye named food fraud as one of four so-called social evils. They reported counterfeited oil, snacks and eggs but did not follow up with announcements naming the brands, describing how hazardous they were or what happened to the questionable products. The investigations and crackdown did nothing to raise confidence in food safety, but only aggravated distrust and confusion in the market.
Police and health authorities must come up with more clear and reliable guidelines on uncovering and rooting out food frauds and counterfeits. There must be an accredited authority that examines the adulteration levels and have authorities reveal the companies and brands. Food safety and law enforcement authorities should come up with an orderly manual to deal with food counterfeits. The legislature should speed up legislation, mandating tougher punishment against food tampering.