The Korea Herald

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Korea to reform livestock industry following tainted eggs

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : Aug. 20, 2017 - 16:27

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The tainted egg crisis in South Korea is expected to enter a new chapter amid calls for a fundamental reform of the country’s “factory farming” system.

President Moon Jae-in on Saturday ordered a more thorough look into the problems in South Korea’s livestock industry, saying the latest food scare surrounding pesticide-tainted eggs here will remain unsolved unless the livestock industry is “fundamentally changed.”
 
A group of animal rights activists protest in central Seoul on Friday against South Korea`s A group of animal rights activists protest in central Seoul on Friday against South Korea`s "factory farming." (Yonhap)

The talks of reformation has shifted attention to “factory farming,” where the livestock farms’ poor breeding condition is believed to be the main cause of global health risk. Poultry farms that adopt such systems, breed millions of birds in small cages with a floor space about the size of a sheet of A4 paper.

A recent report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development suggested that the sudden June outbreak and spread of the bird flu virus here is largely due to the poor hygiene of these battery cage-facilities.

Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said on Sunday that the government must act immediately to restore the public’s trust. 

“The government must act pre-emptively and more proactively regarding the public distrust and concern about eggs. If we take action after a problem arises, that is too late,” he said in a meeting Sunday. 
 
In line with Lee’s statement, the growing public distrust in the state inspection system is a vital task the Moon administration must work out before moving onto the next step.

The current two-tier egg circulation system in South Korea has been at the center of controversy since the beginning of the crisis.

The system is managed by both the agriculture ministry and the Food and Drug Safety Ministry, each overseeing the production stage and controlling the distribution and consumption, respectively. The ministries have faced public backlash for their insufficient response to the food scare and poor handling of “codes” printed on eggshells, which identifies the region and producer of the eggs.

There have been voices within and without the administration calling for a unified food control tower with solid authority to supervise the entire egg circulation system.

Traces of insecticides were also found in two government-approved “organic egg” products on Wednesday, which further fueled apprehension among South Korean consumers. Such products claim the hens are raised in an eco-friendly environment.

Meanwhile, Seoul National University on Sunday claimed those with East Asian heritage are genetically vulnerable to chemical fipronil, which can cause kidney and liver damage, said a research team led by Prof. Kim Ju-han.

By analyzing a big data of receptors in 2,504 subjects from various ethnic groups, the team discovered that East Asians were more prone to genetic mutation upon contacting toxic chemicals, than any other group. They were 10 times more vulnerable than the other Asian groups, 2.5 times and 1.3 times more than Africans and North Americans respectively.

The agriculture ministry on Sunday said the on-site probe into 420 poultry farms that weren’t included in the first round of inspection will be completed by Monday. It additionally revealed that it has so far found no additional signs of contaminated eggs in 194 farms as of 9 a.m. on Sunday.

The news of egg contamination broke Tuesday when the Agriculture Ministry conducted inspection on 1,239 egg farms and related facilities nationwide which unveiled 29 farms had used illegal insecticides.

The ministry said 37 farms were found to have above the permissible level of bifenthrin, used on agricultural crops, while eight were found to have used fipronil. Two other farms were found contaminated with flufenoxuron, while the remaining two had used etoxazole and pyridaben, according to the government.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)