South Korea Goes Digital To Prevent Origin Adulteration Amid Rising Ingredient Imports

The kimchi market in South Korea occupies a unique position where domestically produced products are much more prized than imported products, largely due to the vast majority of imported kimchi entering the country from China and this product perceived by local consumers to be of poor quality.

Locally made kimchi with local ingredients is considered the most “premium”. But in recent months, local authorities have identified a sharp increase in imports of ingredients used to make kimchi, which has raised concerns about the deception regarding the origins of the products and the decision to carry out a crackdown on the kimchi. nationwide.

“The National Agricultural Product Quality Management Service will enforce a crackdown on country of origin labeling for kimchi and kimchi vegetables [in] November and December, with an emphasis on items in high demand during the kimchi production season, such as cabbage, red pepper powder, garlic, ginger, carrots, etc.Agency chairman Lee Ju-myeong said in an official statement.

“To ensure this crackdown takes place with maximum effectiveness amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we will use a cyber app team to monitor online shopping malls, delivery apps, inspect mail order sellers and more. .

“[Our digital management system] history has already revealed that many kimchi companies have increased their imports of items used to make kimchi, such as garlic and onion – these companies will be key points for inspection [to ensure] their original labeling is not misleading.

Between January and September 2021, the agency detected a 38.6% jump in garlic import volumes from 26,700 tonnes to 37,013 tonnes as well as a huge 85.8% jump in import volumes. of onions from 25,918 tonnes to 48,149 tonnes, raising levels of suspicion.

In addition, the alarm bells have also been sounded as the country is currently in the grip of nationwide apprehension over a possible shortage of major ingredients, kimchi, which is an important staple for consumers. Korean.

“Looking at the supply and demand of the main ingredients used to make kimchi, cabbage and radish production [is actually expected to be] lower compared to the average year due to the decrease in the cultivated area due to the mediocre prices in 2020 ‘,the local Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA) said in an official statement.

“For example, compared to the average year, cabbage cultivation is expected to reach 11,893 ha, a decrease of 7% and the production volume is expected to reach 1.18 million tonnes, a decrease of 8%; while the radish cultivation area is expected at 4,502 ha, a decrease of 6.5% and the volume at 380,000 tonnes, a decrease of 2%.

“Other ingredients such as garlic will also see some drop, which will likely lead to higher prices.”

Due to the shortage of local ingredients and the increase in ingredient imports, the ministry has set up a special team of 285 officers to ensure accurate labeling of the country of origin throughout the duration of the process. crackdown, which is currently expected to last until December 10.

Any company that falsely indicates the country of origin of its products is subject to criminal prosecution and a maximum penalty of seven years in prison or a maximum of KRW 100 million (84,267) USD, while those that fail to completely indicating the country of origin will be penalized by no more than KRW10mn (8,427 USD).

Addressing Ingredient Shortages

South Korea’s concern over the potential shortage of kimchi is such that the ministry has also taken additional proactive steps to stabilize the supply and demand for kimchi and related ingredients, such as opening up national reserves.

According to MAFRA, in the event of “instability” in the supply of kimchi as well as in prices, the government is ready to provide an additional 1,000 tonnes of vegetables, 1,400 tonnes of peppers and 1,000 tonnes of garlic.

To counter any potential price inflation, discount coupons will also be provided to consumers purchasing agricultural and livestock products such as kimchi vegetables and pork. This discount will amount to 20,000 KRW (16.85 USD) and will cover both large supermarkets such as Homeplus, Lotte Mark, Hanaro Mart, GS Retail and many others as well as all traditional markets.

Kimchi Beef

South Korea and China at odds over kimchi and its origins since the beginning of this year, when the latter tried to claim kimchi as a food in its own right. South Korean kimchi and Chinese pickled vegetables are both called “pao cai” in Mandarin Chinese.

Since then, imports of kimchi from China have seen massive declines, and since October 2021, the government has also taken steps to further control imports through the enforcement rules of the Special Security Management Law. imported food, where “Marinated kimchi / compote with cabbage as the main ingredient”Was added to a list requiring stricter certification and controls before importation.

But kimchi made in China is still cheaper than locally produced kimchi nonetheless, as are a variety of kimchi ingredients available for import from other countries outside of Korea.

So, taking this into account in a post-COVID-19 economy that is still recovering, and setting aside the previous national pride in Korean kimchi, one can see why authorities are concerned that local businesses resort to imports to reduce costs and increase profits.

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