March 29, 2012 11:49
Dangerously high levels of carcinogens have been detected in imported Chinese chopsticks, ladles, rice bowls, plates and other kitchenware. Most of the products have been sold and cannot be recollected.
The discovery of formaldehyde and other carcinogens in Chinese-made kitchenware over the past month begs the question of how watertight is Korea's system of screening Chinese imports for safety.
Experts believe improperly checked products are sold across the country because Chinese manufacturers are abusing Korea's inspection system.
In most countries, only the first batch of an import undergoes thorough inspections. If a product passes, any future imports are checked only for proper documentation, because it is physically impossible for authorities to check every single object a country imports.
Chinese manufacturers have apparently been abusing this loophole by first exporting a special batch of products that meet safety standards, and then, once the inspection is over, shipping shoddier products that are made with hazardous substances to reduce costs.
Last year, Korea imported food products and kitchenware worth US$13 billion from China on 312,000 occasions. Only the first batches, or 26 percent of those imports, underwent detailed inspections.
An official of the Korean Food and Drug Administration said that the authority tries to ward off substandard products as much as possible. Besides the first batches, it randomly picks out another 5 percent of imports for extra safety tests, he added.
All of the products that have been discovered so far this year containing carcinogens were made in China.
Shin Sung-kyun at Hanyang Women's University said, "The problem is that China's technology and standards of supervision are still behind those of advanced countries. Korean traders who want to boost their profits by importing cheaper products are also to blame."
In Japan, importers face tough penalties for bringing in foreign products containing hazardous substances. They are required to conduct all safety inspections themselves and prove that no problems have been found to obtain import permission from authorities.
There are around 1,000 government-certified safety inspection firms in Japan. In Korea, there are only about 100.
Experts say on-site inspections of Chinese production facilities must be stepped up to prevent inferior or hazardous products from being imported from the production stage onward.
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