Stricter GMO governance expected in South Korea as public sentiment remains hostile

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

Food and beverage firms have been warned that South Korea is expected to further tighten its governance on genetically-modified (GM) foods. ©Getty Images
Food and beverage firms have been warned that South Korea is expected to further tighten its governance on genetically-modified (GM) foods. ©Getty Images

Related tags South korea GMO

Food and beverage firms have been warned that South Korea is expected to further tighten its governance on genetically-modified (GM) foods despite recent policy moves indicating that officials were adopting a less strict approach.

Public sentiment in South Korea in general trends against GMO foods, with a previous survey by research firm Korea Biosafety Clearing House (KBCH) showing that over 83% of national consumers want stricter regulations to be imposed on GMO handling, storage, distribution and labelling.

The Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) appears to have recently been adjusting GMO standards to be less stringent – such as its recent modification allowing food products with only trace amounts of GM ingredients to make ‘non-GMO’ label claims​ to align with international standards.

MFDS also recently announced that it would be requiring food safety reviews for GMO foods at the agricultural product/ingredient level but not necessarily the final processed food product which appears to be another small concession – but experts have said that in the long run, it is likely that overall, GMO control is only going to get stricter.

“I definitely do not see the trend in South Korea towards the loosening of GMO regulations overall, largely as South Koreans are becoming increasingly health conscious,”​ South Korean business consultancy Founder and CEO Eyal Victor Mamou told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“As South Korea is becoming richer, people are becoming more sophisticated and want more healthy food. This also means they will check ingredients more closely [and GMO ingredients are not going to cut it],”​ he said.

“The government has overall been adding more and more forbidden ingredients to the [banned] list, so even with little concessions or alignments here and there.

“In fact, I believe that overall, the rules governing GMO foods are only going to get stricter.”

Imports have most issues

South Korea has been attempting to keep up with international standards such as those from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) in terms of non-GMO labelling, but in general, food imports with GMO content have been subject to more problems than those without.

“For example, products imported from the US have seen issues if there are certain species of GMO-grown corn used, and this goes down to the ingredient level,”​ said Mamou.

“This is all in the name of a healthier food supply – for South Korea, the regulations in this regard are becoming stricter, as the focus now is that all ingredients entering the food supply must be healthy and there must be no risk – [GMOs are still pretty much an uncertain factor] on the risk scale.

“As such, some food companies have had to completely change the production of certain products due to the presence of certain ingredients or preservatives so as to enter the country, and this is something firms need to confirm [before setting the shipment into motion].”

He added that transparency is also emerging to be more and more important locally, and this is especially so when it comes to food product labels.

“More health-oriented regulations that favour consumer over industry are appearing here, and I expect this to continue to be the direction moving forward,” ​he said.

“The labels on food products are a good example – now a lot more information has been mandated on labels compared to before, such that consumers can know the exact source and clear amounts of ingredients, [and it will be clear at a glance if GMO components are present].”

MFDS also recently launched an image-based food safety information and traceability app for consumers to trace the information of imported foods, as well as a ‘Food Labelling Bot’ application​ to help local food firms comply with labellling regulations.

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