The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said Friday that it carried out inspections on 1,239 farms with layer hens and found that 1,190 of them complied with safety regulations, while 49 did not. The 1,190 qualified farms, which account for about 95.7 percent of all egg supply in Korea, will be permitted to immediately resume their sales. The given inspections were carried out from Tuesday to 9 a.m. on Friday.
Of the 49 farms, 31 had been certified by the government as “eco-friendly farms,” meaning that no traces of any insecticide could have been found in the eggs. An additional 37 eco-friendly farms were found to be selling eggs with chemical traces but within official safety limits. These farms will be permitted to resume sales of their eggs without the eco-friendly mark.
The government said it will immediately collect and dispose of eggs produced on the 49 farms, and run tests on products made with poultry from those farms as well.
The chemicals detected include fipronil, bifenthrin, flufenoxuron, etoxazole and pyridaben.
Fipronil is the same substance that caused an egg panic in Europe after being first discovered in eggs in Belgium and the Netherlands. It is a pesticide that is used to deflea dogs and cats, but is not permitted for use on poultry.
According to a health risk assessment released by the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety on Thursday, fipronil is a moderate toxin that usually shows mild and reversible health effects after acute risk.
The maximum number of eggs tainted with fipronil that can be consumed at once by an adult “without exposure to acute risk” is ten. For children between one to three years, it is just one egg.
Eggs that were found to contain excessive levels of bifenthrin included those distributed by large, trusted companies Homeplus and CJ CheilJedang.
Despite the government’s promises to improve its safety protocols for egg farmers, consumers remain wary -- not least because the two agencies tasked with handling the crisis seem unable to keep track of their data.
Since Wednesday, the Agriculture Ministry and Food Safety Ministry have repeatedly released corrections to lists of farms that did not pass safety inspections.
Some farms have also been discovered to have not been stamping their eggs with obligatory codes showing their origin, increasing consumer worries. The Food Safety Ministry has promised to overhaul its process for certifying farms as being pesticide-free, as well as the system for managing eggs sold to the public.
Following criticisms from animal rights groups and the association of eco-friendly farmers, the government has also pledged to work toward improving conditions for chickens. Critics have noted that caging layer hens in cramped spaces increases the likelihood of the animals contracting red lice, leading to higher usage of pesticides on farms.
The government also plans to increase cooperation between various agencies to track food safety, for instance by “building a cooperative body to create an information sharing system through the production and distribution processes of animal products,” according to the Agriculture Ministry.
Retailers have been moving quickly to quell consumer fears about purchasing potentially toxic eggs. The largest retailers simultaneously pulled all eggs from their shelves on Tuesday and began restocking only from farms that had been green-lighted by government agencies.
Major bakeries have also put out signs at their stores, assuring consumers about the safety of the eggs used in their products.
“The farms that supply our eggs have been both confirmed as being safe by the government, and we have also conducted our own internal tests,” said an official with one food company. According to the official, sales of products that use large quantities of eggs have not been affected by the crisis so far.
By Won Ho-jung (firstname.lastname@example.org)