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Parasites in Kimchi Sour China Relations

clock03-29-2010, 12:40 AM
Yorum: #1
Parasites in pickle sour Seoul-Beijing relations Koreans have been put off their national dish


7 November 2005

Financial Times

In front of the blood-red, pungent mounds of kimchi at Seoul's Lotte department store, Korean ajuma (housewives) were uncharacteristically reticent yesterday. Rather than elbowing their way forward as usual, they were circling the stands with furrowed brows.

"What are the ingredients? Where was it made?" they asked the shop assistants, who outnumbered shoppers.

A fermented, spicy pickle eaten morning, noon and night, kimchi is to Koreans what pasta is to Italians. But the country has been plunged into a crisis that strikes at the heart of its national identity. Alarming claims that many kimchi brands may be infested with roundworm or other parasites have left Koreans scared to touch the stuff.

"I used to buy kimchi but from now on I'm going to make it myself," said Choi Seung-eun, a reluctant customer at Lotte. "I worry about kimchi these days."

Made from cabbage, or sometimes radish or cucumber, kimchi is usually eaten as a side dish but it also appears in kimchi stew, kimchi fried rice, Korean-style pizza and even in kimchi-flavoured chocolate.

Koreans claim kimchi has antibacterial qualities that have warded off Sars and bird flu, and even spurred the national football team into the semi-finals in the 2002 soccer World Cup.

But last month Korean food inspectors said kimchi from China had high levels of lead and was contaminated with parasite eggs that appeared to come from human waste. With not enough cabbages for their needs, South Korea imports about Dollars 40m (Euros 33m, Pounds 22m) worth of kimchi from China each year.

Beijing retaliated by claiming that some Korean-made kimchi was infested with parasites. To Koreans' chagrin, their own Food and Drug Administration this week confirmed roundworm eggs had been found in 16 brands accounting for about 5 per cent of kimchi sales. The eggs probably came from cat and dog excrement that had not been properly washed off cabbages.

The scare has many Koreans turning away from their favourite dish. "This kimchi trouble is too tough for us," said Kim Sam-rae, owner of Apgujeong Kimbab restaurant. "The number of guests has decreased remarkably and lots of people are leaving their kimchi untouched."

Far from being purely gastronomic, the kimchi crisis is fast escalating into a diplomatic incident. Beijing has banned 10 Korean food imports and are testing Korean-made plastic wrap for carcinogens.

Korean authorities are now afraid a kimchi cloud will hang over Chinese President Hu Jintao's state visit to Seoul before the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum later this month.

"I hope the issue will not escalate into a trade conflict between South Korea and China," said Ban Ki-moon, South Korea's foreign minister, launching a diplomatic forum on the issue.

But Choi Byung-il, international trade professor at Ewha Womans University, said it had the potential to escalate into "a major dispute". Five years ago Korea slapped a 315 per cent tariff on Chinese garlic, which prompted Beijing to retaliate "10 times over", Prof Choi said, by banning imports of Korean mobile telephones. "For better or worse, the Apec meeting is coming so everyone will have to try to settle it," he said.

But Park Chae-lin, curator of Pulmuone Kimchi Museum, was not so worried about the fracas yesterday.

"Before, consumers cared only about kimchi prices and that's why low quality, cheap kimchi has been sold," he said. "But from now on consumers will be keen about the health of kimchi, so its quality and price will be higher."
clock07-07-2012, 05:55 PM
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