October 1, 2008

South Korean Opposition Wants Food Agency Chief Dismissed Over Melamine Scare

Text of report in English by South Korean news agency Yonhap

Seoul, Oct. 1 (Yonhap) - South Korea's main opposition party on Wednesday called on the government to dismiss its food agency chief, blaming him for a lack of safety measures amid an escalating scare over tainted food products from China.

Seoul recently banned imports and recalled Chinese-made foodstuffs containing powered milk after six brands were found to contain traces of melamine, an industrial chemical that can cause kidney damage in humans.

The toxic chemical was added by Chinese dairy producers to baby formula to artificially increase protein levels, killing at least four infants and causing some 53,000 others to become ill. There have not yet been reports of death or illnesses related to contaminated food in South Korea.

The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) blasted the Korea Food and Drug Administration and its commissioner Yun Yeo-pyo for failing to act promptly, noting that local investigations and bans on imports came nearly two weeks after concerns were first raised here.

"Commissioner Yun should be held accountable for the belated and insufficient safety measures," said DP lawmaker Choi Young-hee after a party meeting Tuesday. "Better measures should have been prepared to relieve people from concerns. People should no longer be concerned about the safety of what they eat."

A growing number of countries including South Korea have strengthened testing of Chinese food imports as fears have grown that harmful ingredients may have been used in cookies, chocolate bars or other products.

Although a small amount of melamine poses no danger, large dosages or continued exposure to the chemical can cause kidney stones and lead to kidney failure, according to health experts. Infants are particularly vulnerable.

China has been accused of muffling early warnings from activist groups and mothers, allowing the problem to worsen domestically and internationally. Melamine, which is used to make plastics and fertilizer, has been found in infant formula and other milk products from 22 Chinese dairy companies.

The food safety issue is becoming a source of heated political debate here ahead of the parliamentary inspection of the administration slated for next month, with opposition parties firing a salvo against the government for its alleged lack of alertness.

The main opposition party also submitted Wednesday a motion to introduce a class-action lawsuit system for victims of tainted food and stricter labelling of imported foodstuffs.

Originally published by Yonhap news agency, Seoul, in English 0514 1 Oct 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.