Seoul turns to catering services to boost seafood consumption

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries has allocated a budget of at least 64 billion won for this year to stimulate Koreans' consumption of seafood, and the government has pledged to inject the additional budget if needed.

Son Ji-Hyoung

Son Ji-Hyoung

The Korea Herald


An official checks radiation levels of fish to be sold at a fish market in Daegu on Monday. PHOTO: YONHAP/THE KOREA HERALD

August 29, 2023

SEOUL – The South Korean government and politicians are scrambling to assure the public of the safety of consuming seafood amid growing concerns that Japan’s 30-year plan to release radioactive water in northeastern Japan could be detrimental to the quality of seafood sourced from waters off the Korean Peninsula.

Later this week, the government, the ruling People Power Party, the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives and meal service providers for corporations, including Samsung Wellstory, Ourhome, Hyundai Green Food and CJ Freshway, will join forces to encourage increased seafood consumption at home by including more seafood in their corporate meal services.

This comes after the presidential office in Seoul’s Yongsan district on Sunday announced plans to serve Korean seafood at its cafeteria for all staff.

Korean seafood will be served on a daily basis throughout this week at the presidential office. The types of seafood served will range from flatfish to rockfish, mackerel, cutlassfish and sea eel, as well as horned turban, sea squirt, seaweed and abalone. Some of the dishes will serve raw fish. Seafood will continue to be provided at least twice a week, starting in September.

A presidential office spokesperson said seafood was also served at Monday’s regular lunch meeting of President Yoon Suk Yeol and Prime Minister Han Duck-soo.

These are in line with the announcement the previous week that shipbuilder HD Hyundai and its meal service provider Hyundai Green Food signed a memorandum of understanding at the National Assembly on Aug. 22, allowing HD Hyundai’s 55,000 employees to consume some 100 metric tons of flatfish and abalone caught in Korean waters by the year-end.

Also on Wednesday, Fisheries Minister Cho Seung-hwan and Korea International Trade Association Chairman Koo Ja-yeol met to explore ways to have more Korean companies’ meal services include Korean seafood. This follows Cho’s meeting with Chey Tae-won, who heads the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, earlier in August.

Rep. Sung Il-jong of the ruling People Power Party, who is leading the coordination effort between meal service providers and the government, said in a radio interview Friday that the matter of serving more Korean seafood to some 500,000 soldiers — with a majority of them being the able-bodied young men doing mandatory military service — lies in the hands of the military forces. A spokesperson at the Defense Ministry said its plans for food service operations — including portions of food — are being determined on a yearly basis, and that it only serves Korean seafood according to the annual plan that has already been put in place.

Sung has yet to confirm whether seafood provision could increase in school meals, in a country home to nearly 4.3 million students in elementary, middle and high schools as of 2022. An official at the Education Ministry said it has not internally confirmed a plan to increase the amount of Korean seafood on schools’ menus.

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries has allocated a budget of at least 64 billion won ($48.3 million) for this year to stimulate Koreans’ consumption of seafood, and the government has pledged to inject the additional budget if needed.

The government on Thursday also hinted to offer discounts of up to 50 percent on Korean seafood both on online marketplaces and in stores, through the end of this year.

But opposition parties have continued to attack the government, accusing it of forcing public offices and companies to join in.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea Chairman Rep. Lee Jae-myung said Monday that Japan’s “environmental crimes of poisoning the Pacific Ocean will never be tolerated,” referring to Japan’s plan to release nearly 1.4 million tons of water over some 30 years. The party in Busan criticized its mayor Park Heong-joon on Monday for changing his stance on the radioactive water release, two years after he submitted an open letter to the consulate general of Japan in Busan, calling on Japan to scrap the water release plan.

The minor progressive Jinbo Party also said in a statement Sunday that the government is “turning a blind eye on Japan’s act of international crime and instead forcefully carrying out the supply of seafood through meal service providers.”

In the meantime, the government again assured the public of the safety of seafood circulating in Korea — including seafood caught in Korean waters and Japanese seafood that has passed radioactivity checks here. Korea bans the import of seafood from eight Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima, and requires radioactivity checks on seafood sourced from the remaining 17 prefectures.

Park Sung-hoon, vice minister of oceans and fisheries, said on Monday that a special inspection on 20,000 seafood importers here to look into any potential cases of food fraud — largely by faking Japanese seafood’s country of origin — will be conducted over the course of more than three months beginning Monday, with greater focus on specific types of seafood such as scallops, red sea bream and sea apples.

Park added that no radioactivity was detected in Korean seafood as the country carried out over 3,848 rounds of inspections this year until Friday. No abnormalities were found in imported Japanese seafood throughout 3,423 radiation safety inspections until Thursday.

Through monitoring of 15 locations in waters off the southern part of the Korean Peninsula and near Jeju Island after Japan started releasing treated wastewater, five locations showed the level of radiation from seawater with regards to radioactive elements like caesium and tritium being “much lower than the drinking water standard by the World Health Organization, according to the Fisheries Ministry. This means the waters are “confirmed to be safe,” the ministry said, adding that the monitoring result has yet to be announced for the rest of the 10 locations.

Also on Sunday, the Ministry of Education revealed that from 2021 until May this year, no Japanese seafood was used in meal services for 11,843 primary and secondary schools combined.

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