South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon on Saturday said local authorities should deal strictly with egg producers who are not complying with the government's food safety standards as he conducted on-site inspections to handle an insecticide-contaminated egg crisis in the country.
"I strongly think those who poorly manage food that is consumed by the majority of people should not be forgiven," Lee said at the agriculture ministry's office in Sejong. "There could be elements threatening food safety at every stage of production, so we must get rid of those problems this time."
For his on-site inspections, Lee first headed to Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, for the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety's briefing on the distribution of the tainted eggs and its countermeasures. He then moved to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs' office building in Sejong to check its reports. He also visited a large discount store to listen to people's opinions.
As of Saturday, the agriculture ministry's inspection results showed 49 farms had used illegal insecticides, and some 624.51 million eggs are produced and distributed annually from these farms, which accounted for 4.6 percent of the total eggs produced and distributed last year.
Lee ordered the ministries to learn from the current crisis. There has been a confusion over boundaries of work between the agriculture ministry and the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, while the National Agriculture Products Quality Management Service was accused of poor handling of stamping environmentally friendly certifications for poultry producers.
"If people's trust in the government's administrative work, such as environmentally friendly certifications and the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), is damaged, this could be more painful than the current egg crisis," he said. "It's really sad that the government agencies related with food safety didn't do a good job to earn people's trust. We need to reorganize perfectly and fix the problems."
President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday ordered Lee to comprehensively oversee the egg issue and thoroughly inform the public about the inspection results. Lee said he will give clear guidelines to each ministry's job to solve the egg crisis.
"The president will talk at the Cabinet meeting Monday, but it's going to be clear what each ministry should do," he said. "I want to establish a system that can ensure food safety by creating a task force and other effective measures necessary."
Lee said that ministries should apologize for their wrongdoings even if such actions were accepted in the previous administrations.
"We have to cut bad habits from the past, and it's not right to think that this is the fault of the previous government," he said. "Even if it was done in the past, we're not free from it unless we apologize and fix the problems."
Lee said follow-up measures for poultry producers should be executed to prevent further troubles even if all tainted eggs are removed from the market.
"Probably early next week, we will see (egg) consumption getting normalized," he said. (Yonhap)