ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

13 August 2002


ROK Softens Rules on GMO Imports From US
The Korea Times, Aug 9, 2002, by Kim Sung-jin

Korea is in uproar with suspicions arising of a possible repetition of the  government's covering up of a foreign trade deal just as it did with the  Chinese garlic imports.

At the third Korea-U.S. trade talks Thursday, Seoul's decision to ease  import regulations on genetically modified organisms (GMO) has become a hot  potato in the country.

Upon hearing the news, civic groups expressed strong indignation over the  government's acquiescence. Voices are being raised that in order to secure  the health safety of the nations food supply, stronger and more stringent  regulations are required, not only for domestic products but especially for  imports.

"The Korean government should tighten its regulations on genetically  modified food. If you look at the European Union, their GMO related  regulations are much harsher than ours. Food is directly connected to our  national's health and it should be protected. We are being molested by the  U.S. Do you think the EU would just lie back and relax if the U.S. did the  same to them?" said Kwon Young-geun, head of the Korean Institute for the  Study of Rural Societies and the executive committee chairperson for the  Korea Anti-GMO Network (KAGN).

The press release by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT)  Thursday regarding the bilateral trade talks read, "The two parties have  expressed satisfaction over arriving at an amicable accord on the issue of  a mandatory genetically modified food labeling system."

The statement is widely seen as the Korean government's acceptance of  everything the U.S. requested in the easing of import regulations for U.S.  genetically modified food imports. Washington has continuously put pressure  on Korea to lift its regulations on genetically modified foods.

Last December, Chief Agriculture Negotiator of the US Trade Representative  (USTR) Allen Johnson expressed his strong resentment toward the mandatory  labeling of all agricultural products containing ingredients whose natural  genetic structure had been tampered with.

In addition, the government appears to have backed down from its defense of  citizens' rights. It currently implements a GMO import regulation under a  policy of protecting customer health and right to information by requiring  either identity preserved documentation or government issued certification  from food imports to accurately distinguish GMO-contained food from non-GMO  foodstuffs.

It agreed to the U.S. demand that American food products will only present  notarized self-certification, which means U.S. food companies will be able  to issue their own certification. Such a regime would clearly lack  credibility and accuracy in helping consumers distinguish natural and  genetically engineered food.

Regarding the statement, a Korean Federation for Environmental Movement  (KFEM) official commented that the government has spontaneously destroyed  the system aimed at protecting Koreans. This will lead to even more trade  pressure from the U.S. since the large majority of genetically modified  food exports in the world come from U.S. producers.

The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) is currently implementing an inclusion of  important indication in advertisements system since last month in covering  genetically modified food products. This requires genetically modified food  producers to clearly label the presence of GMOs in their advertising.

However, this system is good for nothing at the moment with no cases having  been filed, and even if the U.S. ships in genetically engineered products,  the Korean people will have no choice but be fully exposed to the danger of  genetically tampered food that has not even been proven safe for eating.

"The government should maintain the strict import regulation on GMO imports  until the safety of genetically modified food can be proven. Food is  directly linked to life and health. It is not a thing that the government  can exchange with a few more exports of automobiles," said the KFEM  official.

Park Hyo-sung, director of the North American Trade Bureau under MOFAT  said, "The bilateral talks were just for a reviewing of outstanding trade  issues, not the trade negotiations. Therefore, nothing was decided in the  meeting. We just delivered our future bilateral trade policy plans and our  demands to the U.S." He added that the U.S. delegation did the same. Rumors  and misleading reports by the media are wrong and we neither discussed nor  agreed about automobile excise tax cuts, nor agreed with the U.S. to not so  sternly regulate U.S. GMO imports for not labeling GMO signs on their  products and ads."

But it still remains to seen whether the government has been honest in  revealing the full extent of issues that were discussed during the meeting.

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