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Korea to strengthen control over safety of imported food

Bill allows Korean food watchdog to launch on-site inspection of overseas food makers

Foreign food makers and local importers are expected to face tougher safety rules from 2015 as the government and some lawmakers are pushing for legislation to enhance the safety of imported food.

A group of 12 lawmakers said on Monday that they would seek to mandate foreign food makers and local importers to register information of their food imports with the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, Korea’s food watchdog.

“We expect a special bill on safety management of imported food, which is pending at the National Assembly, to be enacted soon,” a ministry official said.

“The bill is aimed at consolidating scattered rules and regulations regarding safety of imported food and thus building a control tower and raising efficiency.”

Under the current law, imported food products, including agricultural, processed, fishery products and meat, have been controlled by different rules and regulations based on the type of food.

If the bill is passed, every food importer will have to register information on the location of its manufacturing facilities and products to the authorities seven days before filing an import declaration.

The new rules would allow the Korean food authorities to apply differentiated regulations to food importers depending on their food safety policy, which is aimed at encouraging them to improve their safety policy on a voluntary basis.

At the distribution level, the ministry said it would be able to track safety-related records of agricultural and processed foods as it does for meat.

In addition, the bill allows the Korean authorities to launch on-site inspections of foreign food makers overseas if necessary.

The move toward tightened control over food imports came amid lingering public concerns over the safety of imported foods following a series of incidents involving tainted Chinese food in recent years.

Chinese food exports to Korea jumped more than fivefold from $510 million in 2001 to $2.68 billion in 2011, according to government data.

According to the ministry, Korea imported about 70,000 different food products from 121 countries last year. The number of food importers reached 31,731 and food imports amounted to 16 trillion won ($14.3 billion) last year.

Regarding the type of imported foods, processed foods take up the biggest share of total food imports at 58.9 percent, followed by livestock meat (16.8 percent). Imports of fishery and agricultural foods took up 14.4 percent and 9.9 percent, respectively, last year.

By Seo Jee-yeon (