The recent insecticide-contaminated eggs crisis has prompted South Korea’s citizens to be more concerned about the food that goes on their tables. The eggs were contaminated with the insecticide Fipronil, which is used as a common veterinary treatment for lice, tics and fleas, but is prohibited in the treatment of animals destined for human consumption.
The overseeing of the production of eggs and other livestock products is entirely the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA). The obligation to protect and provide for the welfare of the animals in the livestock industry is also the duty of MAFRA. However, this recent incident with contaminated eggs clearly shows that MAFRA is not only incapable of regulating adequate animal care and welfare, but is also incapable of properly regulating the management of the livestock breeding and production environment.
Currently, the department responsible for animal protection and welfare is the Animal Welfare Team in the Environment Welfare Division of MAFRA. However, it is not appropriate for MAFRA, which regulates the production and processing of animals as food, to also take on the contrary role of protecting the animals in the industry which it serves. This represents a huge conflict of interest, which has been a hindrance to the development of animal protection laws for the past 10 years.
Last February’s amendments to the Korean Animal Protection Act failed to include crucial elements that would have strengthened animal protection, such as a more detailed definition of animal abuse, emergency quarantine measures, monetary incentives for reporting animal abuse, and a ban on ‘ddeun-jang,’ a type of cage, due to opposition from MAFRA.
The ministry responsible for overseeing the protection and welfare of animals in the livestock industry should not also be influenced by protecting its commercial interests. It should be solely focused on protecting the dignity and welfare of the animals. This limitation will not be resolved unless and until the responsibilities are transferred to an unrelated ministry.
In the 20th National Assembly, not only animal rights groups and activists, but also the various members of Parliament who promoted the amendments to the Animal Protection Act, recognized the necessity of transferring animal welfare oversight to another ministry. Former and current representatives who have expertise in animal-related issues, such as former Rep. Hana Jang, have emphasized this necessity. In addition, both the Justice Party, which made a pledge last presidential campaign to integrate all duties related to animals and manage them in a bureau of the Ministry of Environment, and Bareun Party’s Committee for the Companion Animals, are examining the proposal seriously
In order to restore rights to animals, which have only been evaluated for their economic value and productivity for decades, we need to reorganize the government so that the duties of animal welfare regulation and livestock industry promotion are separated.