Fipronil fix

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Fipronil fix

Korean consumers are dumbfounded by news that eggs sold in the local market might contain harmful pesticides. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said Tuesday that some eggs produced at a farm in Namyangju, Gyeonggi, contained excessive amounts of fipronil, an insecticide discovered in European eggs that led to a massive recall there. Another farm in Gyeonggi had eggs containing excessive amounts of bifenthrin, another insecticide.

The ministry began investigating local farms early this month after the egg scare in Europe broke out. It discovered the two farms after an inspection of 40 in the first two weeks. There are over 1,400 egg farms across the country that might come under the same inspection within the week. The egg scandal could grow bigger.

As is common in food safety issues, the government has demonstrated laxity in preventive action. Hen farmers tend to use a lot of pesticides during the summer. The ministry admitted that pesticides could seep into hens’ bodies if they are sprayed in congested chicken coops.

The authorities, though, did not conduct an investigation into pesticide use before the second half of 2016. Education on pesticides usually takes place in September and therefore has helped little to prevent habitual use on farms during the summer.

A ministry official recently told reporters that domestic poultry and eggs are safe. But that confidence was shaken within a few days. Moreover, the eggs found to contain fipronil earned a certification as safe from antibiotics, raising questions about the government’s certification system. Consumers now have to think twice about eating chicken.

The food and retail industries are worried about the toll on their businesses. Bakeries and confectioneries will be directly hit, and a halt in production will put supermarkets in a bind. Their stock could come under safety checks, and egg prices, which are still high from the bird flu outbreak in the spring that wiped out 36 percent of the egg-laying chicken population, will shoot up higher.

This case could shake public confidence in chicken farms. Experts blame poor conditions as the flash point for this crisis. The use of pesticides and drugs is inevitable in heavily compact environments.

Authorities should first examine all the eggs currently in production and distribution, and then in the long run come up with a fundamental solution to ensure better environments on farms.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 16, Page 30
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