Food safety regulation in the Republic of Korea

Wang, Seunghye

Researcher at National Food Safety Information Service (NFSI)

PhD candidate at Seoul National University

Recently, Korean food safety environment is changing because of some risk factors such as newly developed food technologies (biotechnology, nanotechnology, etc.) and nature disasters (the Japanese power plant’s incident, climate change, etc.). To encounter these new problems more actively, the food safety regulation in the Republic of Korea is under the process of development, which has integrated certain commonly recognized science based systems, such as the risk analysis system and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP). As an introduction, this article will address the current legislative framework and the administrative structure in general.

As regard the food safety related legislations, they can be established in the form of an act, a decree, a rule, or a regulation, with the descending legal hierarchy according to the legislators. Against this context, two kinds of legislations are important to be mentioned here under the legislative framework with respect to food safety.

Firstly, as far as the act (passed by the National Assembly) is concerned, the basic act is the Framework Act on Food Safety established in 2008, with the purpose to ensure that people achieve a healthy and safe dietary life by clarifying the rights and obligations of people and responsibilities held by the State and local government with regard to the food safety, and by specifying fundamental matters with regard to the planning and coordinating of food safety policies. Under this act, the most important food safety related act is the Food Sanitation Act, which aim is to contribute to the improvement of public health by preventing sanitary risks caused by food, by promoting the qualitative improvement of food and by giving accurate information on food to the public. Besides, there are acts targeted at specific food products or group of food products, such as the Functional Health Food Act.

Secondly, food safety standards are also important legal instruments to ensure food safety. In this case, two kinds of food safety standards codes, including the Food Code and Food Additive Code, have been promulgated in the term of regulation by the concerned agency (KFDA : Korea Food & Drug Administration) according to the Food Sanitary Act. In parallel to the food safety based standards, there are also food quality related standards, such as country of origin marks, which are applied specifically to agricultural food by different regulatory agencies (such as NAQS : National Agricultural Product Quality Management Service, etc.).

As regard to the administrative structure, many ministries have been involved on the ground that the acts have empowered different ministries to their enforcements. Notably, the regulation of agricultural food and other food along the food supply chain has been separated.

As regard to agricultural food, it is the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MIFAFF) that takes responsibility for establishing regulations and standards related to agricultural products, including livestock and dairy products as well as forestry and fishery products. Under this ministry, the National Agricultural Product Quality Management Service (NAQS) and the Animal, Plant and Fisheries Quarantine and Inspection Agency (QIA) are responsible for establishing sanitary controls, standards, specifications and labeling requirements for domestic and imported livestock and dairy products and for preventing the introduction of harmful weeds, pests and disease originating from imported plants, fruits and vegetables.

As regards to other food products, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MHW) has the responsibility for implementing the Food Sanitation Act which covers the basic requirements and responsibilities for the hygienic and sanitary practices of the food manufacture, process, distribution and sales. It also has the responsibility for implementing other food targeted acts such as the Functional Food Act and their implementing Enforcement Decree and Enforcement Rule. Under this ministry, the Korea Food & Drug Administration (KFDA) is responsible for setting and enforcing standards and specifications for domestic and imported food, functional food, food additives and food contact materials. It also sets and implements regulations governing safety evaluations of agricultural products using biotechnology and labeling requirements for processed food products containing GMO ingredients as well as the guidelines for implementing HACCP program and food recall system. Notably, food importation is essential to guarantee the national food supply in the Republic of Korea since sufficient food supply cannot be ensured by self-production. For example, after joining the WTO, food import has been increased 38% in weight, 262% in sale compared to 1995 according to the Annual Report 2011 of imported Food Inspection. In view of this, the KFDA also makes efforts to strengthen the import food inspection capacity so as to avoid unknown potential risk when importing contaminated food.

Lastly, as mentioned above, the food safety regulation in the Republic of Korea has been modernized by applying the risk analysis system. In addition to the above mentioned regulatory ministries and agencies for risk management, the Korea Food & Drug Administration established the National Institute of Food & Drug Safety Evaluation on May 1st, 2009 as a risk assessment organization that provides scientific risk evaluation of food, food supplement and other regulated products to KFDA policy makers; and the National Food Safety Information Service on July 14th, 2009 as a risk communication organization that provides food safety information to the public and policy makers. It also operates a food traceability system for industry on national web-based network, making available rapid response and market recall when the food-related accidents happen.

In summary, the objective of the Korean food safety legislations is to prioritize public health. Furthermore Korean food safety authority endeavors to improve preparedness in case of a new risk. Besides they try to minimize consumer’s unreasonable anxiety about food safety and reduce regulatory technological uncertainty that food industries are being confronted with.

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