A trade flap between South Korea and China took a new turn yesterday after health officials detected parasite eggs in domestically made kimchi, the spicy side dish beloved by Koreans.
The Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) said 16 out of 502 domestic kimchi brands were contaminated with roundworm eggs believed to have come from cats and dogs.
The watchdog seized 473kg of kimchi from 16 food producers, which account for 4.9 percent of total domestic kimchi production.
The famed dish of spicy fermented cabbage and radish, red peppers, garlic and ginger is a symbol of Korean national cuisine.
Four days ago China imposed an import ban on 10 South Korean food products, including kimchi, hot pepper paste and spices for broiled beef, saying they were contaminated with parasite eggs.
That announcement came after Korean food inspectors said kimchi from China was contaminated with parasite eggs.
"Parasite eggs found in Chinese kimchi appeared to have come from human waste while some domestic kimchi products were contaminated with roundworm eggs from dogs and cats," parasite expert Yoon Hee-jung told reporters.
More than 90 percent of kimchi is imported from China.
Last year 72,600 tonnes of kimchi arrived in South Korea, while imports in the first half of this year increased 114 percent from a year earlier to 49,850 tonnes, according to official data.
However, sales of Chinese kimchi have decreased sharply since the dispute erupted.
The detection of parasite eggs in kimchi sparked concerns about food safety.
But KFDA vice chief Kim Myong-hyun said the human body would not be contaminated with animal roundworms and their eggs.
He called for strict tests on kimchi exports because samples from a kimchi producer, who sold 43 tonnes of kimchi to Japan last year, failed hygiene tests.
Japan imported 32,000 tonnes of South Korean kimchi last year.
Meanwhile in Taiwan, Hsiao Dong-ming (蕭東銘), deputy-director of the Bureau of Food Safety under the Department of Health (DOH) said that the department had already asked the South Korean government to give an in-depth report regarding kimchi quality controls.
Since most of Taiwan's kimchi is imported from South Korea, Hsiao said that he was waiting for South Korea's report and would ensure, once the report is issued, that all imported kimchi meets Taiwan's health and sanitation regulations.
Hsiao said the major problem concerning kimchi imported from South Korea in the past was that it contained a high amount of lead. However, recent tests indicated that the lead levels no longer broke regulations, he said.
Hsiao urged the public not to panic since the roundworm eggs discovered in South Korean kimchi represented only a small percentage of the total kimchi production. Kimchi products on the market will not be removed for the time being, Hsiao said.
The DOH will wait for further information from the South Korean government before making any decisions regarding kimchi products.
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