The government offered an apology again on Friday for the ballooning concerns over food safety stemming from eggs contaminated with illegal insecticides or chemicals, while promising to beef up a nationwide system to prevent similar cases from recurring.
"I sincerely apologize for causing inconvenience and concerns," Agriculture Minister Kim Yung-rok said in a press conference held in Sejong, an administrative city some 130 kilometers south of Seoul.
He said eggs from farms that passed the latest government-led inspection are now sold at local retail stores and are clean enough to eat.
The latest food scare broke Tuesday when eggs from three local farms were found to have been contaminated by pesticides.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said it has completed inspections on 1,239 egg farms and related facilities nationwide and found out that a total of 49 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.
Fipronil, flufenoxuron, etoxazole and pyridaben are banned from being used on chickens in South Korea as they could possibly harm human organs when ingested.
Of the farms that have produced pesticide-tainted eggs, 31 were certified for producing "eco-friendly" eggs, which are strictly prohibited from using any pesticides at all.
As of Friday, 1,190 farms passed the government-led inspection and were allowed to resume supplying eggs. They are able to supply 95.7 percent of the estimated 43 million eggs consumed every day in South Korea.
The agriculture ministry said it will introduce a new nationwide system to trace the entire history of egg circulation and sale.
Despite the government's swift measures to quell public health concerns, the authorities have been criticized for failing to thoroughly carry out the inspection. The minister said Thursday that 121 farms are being re-examined after their samples were tested without due procedures.
The tainted-egg fiasco broke at a time when the country is already suffering from rising egg prices due to a significant reduction in supply caused by the recent outbreak of avian influenza here and the subsequent massive culling of egg-laying chickens. (Yonhap)