Toxic sanitary pads and tooth-paste, pesticide in eggs, and air cleaner sterilizers which turned out to be serial killers to the vulnerable, have all resulted in severe criticism from Korean society. So what do these products all have in common? First, you can easily fine them in your daily lives. Second, a majority of these products had passed the consumer product supervisory system, a national certification program designed to ensure consumer safety. However, with each new case of product safety coming to light, consumers soon lost faith in the very system designed to protedt them and reasoned its processes were fundamentally flawed.
Almost every product has to go through multiple processes before it is released into the market. If products are found to have toxic components to them, government standards require further examinations of the item to be conducted. Despite this rigorous product certification process, consumers have repeatedly been faced with the reality that some products, from humidifier sterilizers to sanitary napkins, still don’t meet appropriate health safety standards. The results have been severe and in some cases, deadly. Several users of oxy sterilizers died or are suffering from severe after-effects from the product’s use.
|▲ Bakeries are telling customers that they only use eggs approved by the government, but consumers could not be relieved due to the MFDS's changeable announcements. (Photo by Woman Economy)|
Moreover, governmental supervision did not catch the nation’s problematic eggs, either. The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) performed a total examination of the nation’s eggs, but this only happened after a rumor of pesticide infested eggs being on the market had spread through to the public. The ministry undertook a complete investigation into the matter only after the fact. However, despite their efforts, they failed to reassure consumers on the safety of products by often releasing mixed messages and frequently revising their announcements, leaving consumers confused over which products were safe to use. Restaurants and bakeries that have to use eggs told their customers that the eggs they use were all approved by the government. However, some of the farms approved by the government were found to be supplying eggs infected with the very same dangerous pesticides.
The Dankook Herald (DKH) conducted an interview with a group called the Solidarity of Eco-feminists to learn more about governmental supervision over these controversial products. The Solidarity of Eco-feminists is the primary organization which first raised the safety issues of sanitary pads. They argued that the safety standards for sanitary napkins are not practical enough to guarantee user safety. Government testing only covers formaldehyde, acid, dyes, and fluorescent materials. However, the current standards leave gaps for reported side effects, such as intense menstrual cramps. Furthermore, the government had not been monitoring the products after they were released into the market because they assumed that manufacturers would stick to the ruls and believed that those rules were themselves reliable.
The common feature in all these cases is that the government didn’t release information to the public on the dangers of these goods when they first came to light. If consumers were made aware of the potential hazards, it would have been easier for them to prevent the serious outcomes we saw.
Therefore, consumer confidence in product safety is at an all-time low as they worry about the potential dangers they are exposed every day, but have few choices for product alternatives. Female consumers who felt threatened by the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in sanitary pads set their eyes on product alternatives such as Natracare, a brand known for their ‘Natural, Organic, Ethical’ motto. However, since Natracare was not that popular in Korea, only a limited number of resellers carried the products and even if you were lucky enough to find a supplier, they were usually out of stock as women rushed to buy them, with no other alternatives available. People who came could not access to Natracare sanitary pads through domestic resellers tried to get it from foreign countries; which was much trickier than simply buying the pads in Korea. Moreover, all of this would be unnecessary, if Korean sanitary pads were made properly in the first place.
|▲ Natracare's sanitary napkins were on total sold-out even though they were not available through the online malls.|
The Solidarity of Eco-feminists, therefore, called for the complete investigation of all sanitary pads distributed in the market. Even though the government recognized the necessity, the investigation they performed did not meet consumer expectations. MFDS’s first investigation only covered some of the products on the market, and focused solely on VOC’s, leaving behind the perils of endocrine disruptors and additional toxic component found in other non-governmental research. In addition, the tests were inappropriate as the ministry investigated how these VOC’s influence the human body by measuring its influence on the liver somatic index when the substances were eaten. The group points out that there is a clear difference between when they are eaten as opposed to when they are absorbed through mucous membranes. The Solidarity of Eco-feminists believes that the only way to determine the safety of all the products on the market is to have a governmental check-up each individual item and an epidemiologic investigation of reported after-effects. Clearly, the MFDS has missed covering investigations of all suspicious materials and conducting epidemiological examinations, thereby disappointing citizens. The environmental group stated that they would like to see proper research conducted by the end of this year.
Experts can predict the effects stemming from the use of toxic components from manufacturer orientation to efficiency. For instance, manufacturers of sanitary pads were too focused on making thinner pads that they neglected to account for the dangers of using toxic chemicals in their absorption complex. Prohibited pesticides were used on chickens in order to sterilize packed cages, but no thought as given to their effect on the eggs. In other words, efficiency conquered safety. Going public with their components is the most definite way for consumers to distinguish between toxic products. However, there is no regulation of material changes required by law. Additionally, manufacturers are not willing to let anyone know what materials are used when products are suspected of having several side effects.
MFDS, on the surface, is working hard, but it seems to be engrossed in calming criticism rather than delivering a reliable result. According to the ministry’s briefing on September 28, the MDFS reached the conclusion that sanitary napkins are safe before the tests were even completed. This conclusion was made in haste as the ministry aimed at restoring consumer confidence in the products as fast as they could, rather than wait for the research to be fully concluded. If they truly cared about the consumer safety, they would have said it was too early to say for sure whether or not these products were safe for use.
Eggs, sanitary pads, and humidifier sterilizers, are all items that can be easily found in our daily lives. As a result, finding toxic components to be a major ingredient in this goods can be a lot more than terrifying. The best solution is to set up strong safety guards before these toxic componets invade our live. The government has to identify what components are inappropriate, and reinforce the system with regulations and policies that supervise chemicals practically. Obviously, they have failed on these occasions to do just that. To remedy the matter, they should take care of the current victims, reorganize the supervisory system and encourage manufacturers to avoid making harmful products. This will be the only way to regain public trust and ensure consumer health and safety. It may not help the Korean economy in the short term, but with consumer well-being at risk, the loss of business is worth it.
박채리, 윤진현 email@example.com