S. Korea pushes bill to enhance safety of imported food

SEOUL, June 17 (Yonhap) -- A group of 12 lawmakers are pushing to mandate foreign food makers or local importers to register information of their food with South Korea's food watchdog as part of efforts to enhance the safety of imported food.

Foreign food makers or local importers are required to give information on location, manufacturing facilities and products to the minister of food and drug safety seven days before filing import declarations.

The lawmakers also called for on-site inspections of foreign food makers or food exporters by South Korean officials if necessary.

These measures are included in a bill submitted by the lawmakers last week. The bill needs to go through parliamentary committees before being sent to the plenary session for vote.

The bill, if passed, could help the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety efficiently manage imported food, a senior ministry official said.

The move comes amid lingering concerns over the safety of imported food following a series of incidents involving tainted Chinese food in recent years.

In 2008, South Korean food safety inspectors detected traces of melamine, a toxic chemical that can cause kidney problems when digested in large quantities, in some Chinese products.

Despite lingering safety concerns, Chinese food exports to South Korea jumped more than five-fold from US$510 million in 2001 to $2.68 billion in 2011, according to government data.

A telephone survey released last year by the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry found that 70.8 percent of those questioned expressed concern for the safety of imported food.

Of the respondents, 89.7 percent expressed distrust of Chinese food while 67.2 percent and 62.6 percent of consumers were concerned about imported food from Japan and the United States, respectively, according to the survey.

Last year, South Korea imported some 70,000 food products from 121 countries, according to separate government data.

<All rights reserved by Yonhap News Agency>