Monday, June 21, 2010

Interview: Ms. Jhon Eun-sook, Director General, Korea Food & Drug Administration

The Korea Food & Drug Administration is responsible for promoting the public health by ensuring the safety and efficacy of foods, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and cosmetics, and supporting the development of the food and pharmaceutical industries.
When the Korea Food and Drug Safety Headquarter was raised to the status of administration in February 1998, the Food Safety Bureau began with three divisions and 25 employees. As of June 2010, its organization and no. of personnel have increased to 11 divisions and 144 employees.
In an exclusive interview Ms. Jhon Eun-sook, Director General, Food Safety headquarters talks about the responsibilities of the department and the plans for the future:

The Food Safety Bureau is in charge of the Framework Act on Food Safety, Food Sanitation Act, Act on Health and Functional Food, and Special Act on Safety Management of Children's Dietary Life. It devises safety management policies on food (including health and functional food), food additives, and utensil and container packaging, and executes the policies.
Its key activities include 'preventive activities', 'quick response to food accidents', 'safety management in preparation for the future', 'improvement of the nation's reputation by advancing food safety', and 'promotion of food safety and nutrition policies that citizens identify with'.
To prevent food accidents
- Expand and operate the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP).
Provide facility support to small- to mid-sized companies, field technology guidance, and customized training so that HACCP-applied products can account for at least 95% of total food production by 2012.
- System where consumers request for sanitary inspection
If there are 20 or more consumers who suffered the same damage, a sanitary inspection is carried out by food sanitation inspectors, including HACCP inspectors and the food poisoning cause assessment team. The results of the inspection are notified to consumers and disclosed on KFDA's Website.
- Strengthen imported food safety management
A field inspection is carried out for companies and countries from which food is imported in large quantities, that have a high number of cases of unsuitability, or whose products have been detected to have carcinogenic substances. This is how imports of harmful food are prevented and relevant products are managed with focus.
For voluntary sanitation management by importers, various systems are in operation, such as the 'prior confirmation and registration system for imported food', 'Good Importer Practice system', and 'system of carrying out field sanitary inspections on manufacturers of OEM food products that are imported'.
KFDA is moving forward with adopting a system that assigns inspection responsibilities to importers, such as strengthening responsibilities of importers of inappropriate food and issuing an order to inspect imported food products for which there is concern over their harmfulness.
- Focused prevention of food poisoning
A food poisoning response council, consisting of private and government officials, is operated to carry out food poisoning prevention activities at the national level.
To especially prevent food poisoning caused by norovirus infection which occurs irrespective of the season, KFDA is engaging in concentrated management, providing guidance, and inspecting facilities that use underground water, such as schools and teenager training centers.
To quickly respond to food accidents
- Automatically stop sales of harmful food products and provide subtitles on television on the recall of such products
Automatically stop sales of harmful food products through stores of key distributors, including Lotte Mart, Emart, Hyundai Department Store, Family Mart, and GS Retail.
When harmful food products that contain such dangerous substances as melamine are discovered, provide television subtitles on product information in real time through four television channels, including KBS.
- Operate a quick harmful food recall system
Quick countermeasures are taken against harmful food products by operating the ?food management status report system?, which allows comprehensive identification of the nationwide monitoring status.
Expand SMS services on harmful food information that are provided to citizens and food sellers across the nation, including supermarkets, and expand the traceability system for quick recall of harmful food products.
- Build a safety management network in the distribution and sales phase
Inspect agricultural, livestock, and marine products as well as processed food products available in the market with focus on harmful substances, including heavy metals and pesticide residues, and engage in concentrated monitoring of food products with a history of unsuitability and food products for which there is concern of harmfulness.
Food safety management in preparation for the future, including climate change
- The climate change-countering food safety management research? project team was launched to draw up food safety strategies.
A total of 12.5 billion won will be invested for five years, starting from 2010, to engage in food safety management research aimed at taking preemptive measures against climate change.
Carry out four key programs - ? Make food safety forecasts and impact assessments in relation to climate change; ? Analyze the influence of harmful factors and research how to manage them through climate change simulations; ? Develop food safety technologies and build a food safety management system in response to climate change; ? Raise citizens' awareness of the safety of climate change adaptation food products and build a relevant information system - and 23 sub-programs
- Develop and supply manufacturing technologies that prevent the waste of resources by minimizing the generation of harmful substances. This includes supplying manuals on manufacturing methods that reduce harmful substances (benzopyrene, MCPD, etc.) in the manufacturing phase of cooking oil, soy sauce, etc.
Improve the nation's reputation by advancing food safety
- Strengthen the nation's criteria to reach the level of advanced countries and international organizations, such as the European Union and Codex, with regards to pollutants and new types of harmful substances in food.
- Overhaul food additive ingredient standards and usage criteria so that they reach the level of advanced countries.
Create new standards and strengthen existing standards on harmful heavy metals, such as lead and cadmium, solvent residues, and microorganisms for 258 different food additives.
- Move forward with interfacing information systems that would allow real-time sharing of food safety information with countries that signed a food safety and sanitation agreement (MOU) with Korea, such as China and Vietnam.
Promote food safety and nutrition policies that citizens identify with
- Develop and disseminate an *individual nutrition management program ("Calorie Codi that is based on mobile phones.
- Adopt a consumer sanitation inspection system to encourage direct participation by consumers in food safety policies.
- Move forward with "reducing the consumption of sodium", making children's food products "zero trans fat", and reducing consumption of sugar and sodium.
KFDA has been continually carrying out R&D activities on safety management, such as that for food products, since 1998, when the Korea Food and Drug Safety Headquarter was raised to the status of administration. The program's objectives are to "build a preventive safety management system by setting scientific standards and engaging in safety assessments on hazardous substances in food and nutrition components that may be harmful in order to promote citizens' health and engage in food safety management at the level of advanced countries".
There are six key research areas (as of 2009).
1. Food safety management research: Conduct risk assessments to create new standards on harmful substances in food, establish a foundation to strengthen risk assessments, and develop testing methods.
Example) Research on safety evaluation of illegal, harmful substances in food, development of testing methods on pharmaceuticals for animals for which new standards need to be established, and research on developing a model that is suitable for Korea for conducting risk assessments on pesticide residues in food.
2. Safety management of nutritional, functional food: Research on genetically modified food inspection methods, research on food allergen indication and inspection methods, and establishment of standards on harmful substances in health and functional food products.
Example) Safety verification testing on genetically modified food, improvements to and establishment of methods used to analyze food additives in food products, and research on safety management for side effects of healthy, functional food.
3. Safety management of national antibiotic resistance: Assess the current status of antibiotic resistance (non-clinical), and hold a special committee on antibiotic resistance of Codex and engage in international cooperation-based research to come up with safety management measures.
Example) Research on the characteristics of harmfulness of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), a survey to ascertain consumer awareness of appropriate usage of antibiotics
4. Safety management of children's food products: Establishment of an integrated management network for children's food products and measures to ensure safety of children's food products.
Example) Research on reducing nutrition components in food that have the possibility of causing harm, research on setting the maximum vitamin and mineral content in health and functional food products for children, and research on establishing a dietary life environment that prevents obesity in children.
5. National monitoring system: Engage in prior monitoring activities to enact and amend standards and criteria, check if standards and criteria are observed, and conduct monitoring activities to reassess standards.
Example) Monitor heavy metals in vegetables, assess the existence of dioxins and PCBs in food, monitor PAHs in marine products, and research test methods on organo arsenics and inorganic arsenics in agricultural products and assess the current status.
6. Food safety management in relation to climate change: Research is carried out to device measures against an increase in harmful marine products resulting from a change in the marine ecosystem, owing to a rise in the sea surface temperature, and a rise in new types of food poisoning bacteria, including germs and viruses.
Example) Evaluate costs of social and economic losses in the area of food safety caused by climate change, and analyze what impact climate change has on food poisoning and research the relevant management system.
Achievements from research projects in 2009 include the following: ? Implementation of institutional improvements and enactment/amendment of standards and criteria: 80 cases; ? development of test methods: 88 cases; ? monitoring projects and establishment of an informatization foundation: 43 cases; ? education and PR activities on research results and spread of/support for technologies: 164 cases; ? development of guidelines, manuals, and handbooks: 37 cases.
Research project costs for the last three years: 13,930 million won (2008); 17,340 million won (2009); 17,510 million won (2010)
In Korea, consumers are highly interested in food safety and citizens' health. For this reason, there is high demand for satisfaction of consumers' right to know such as through food labeling. Accordingly, there have been frequent changes to labeling standards. Some have said that this causes inconveniences.
To make improvements:
- First, KFDA will implement a 'system of an integrated enforcement date for food labeling standards'. Irrespective of the number of times or timing of amendment to food labeling standards, a grace period of at least one year will be provided before enforcement of labeling standards, and there will be one integrated enforcement date a year. This system will address current inconveniences of sellers where they need to change the label on product packaging whenever labeling standards are changed and reduce their financial burden in this regard. In addition, relevant parties will know beforehand of the implementation of such administrative measures to result in a higher level of observance of regulations and resolution of civil complaints.
- Second, KFDA will thoroughly review whether amendments to food labeling standards have the possibility of triggering trade conflicts. It will also make notifications to the WTO and make efforts to actively incorporate opinions submitted by foreign countries.
- Third, KFDA will create an English version of the food labeling standards and provide it on KFDA's Website. It will do so in order to help exporting countries understand Korean labeling standards and to promote smooth trade activities. Considering that a full amendment will be made to food labeling standards this year, an English version will be provided after next year.