Previous government-led safety inspection systems were not reflective of social needs and public interest in the foods and drugs that should be on the market.
The new system allows people not only to make policy proposals but to actively participate in food and drug inspections as well.
People are empowered to request inspection or examination of products when there is a growing public concern over the safety of the food or drug in question. The government will respond with an inspection or examination, and the results will be made publicly available.
The government can proactively monitor the safety of foods and drugs and communicates openly about the results it obtains, resulting in increased public confidence about the safety of these products. The system works as a communication platform between the government and the people, enabling the government to respond to the people’s needs in a more agile manner.
※ Procedure of On-Demand Public Food and Drug Inspection System
Petition (by People) --> Recommendation (by People) --> Selection (by Committee) --> Examination (by Govt) --> Publication (by Govt with Committee)
The committee members include civil society activists, academics, the press, legal consultants and other experts in relevant fields to ensure the fairness and transparency of all inspections.
People can start a petition, make policy recommendations and view disclosed information on a government web site. The platform enables any citizen to make direct requests for a specific food or drug inspection. When there is a growing public sentiment on the need for an inspection, the government conducts an inspection and discloses the findings.
Objectives: Improved public health and public trust in government by having people participate and voice their opinion in the policy-making process. The goal is additionally to prevent emerging risks in food and drug by communicating with the people.
Beneficiaries: The people benefit by having their safety concerns over food and drug addressed, as the government inspects products that people raise issues with and discloses the results publicly. Going forward, the government intends to improve the system by expanding the categories of products that can be inspected and by enabling better public access to effectively respond to the people’s needs and increase public participation.
(Case 1) Public request to inspect baby wipes due to safety concerns
☞ The government inspected and examined 147 brands of baby wipes on the market, and banned sales of 14 brands that contained nonconformities.
(Case 2) Public request to inspect weight loss drinks
☞ The government inspected 41 brands to find that one brand of the drinks contained high or dangerous levels of bacteria and violated laws related to false or exaggerated advertisement, and took administrative action against the manufacturer to ban the sale of the drink.
(Case 3) Public request to inspect diapers due to strong chemical smell
☞ The government inspected 39 brands on the market, and found that there was no problem as every product met all 19 criteria, including formaldehyde levels. The components that caused the smell, VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), were found to be harmless.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The Ministry of Food and Drugs (MFDS Korea) draws up an annual plan to collect and carry out inspections on food, drugs and other items under its oversight responsibilities, yet there still remain areas for improvement in terms of reflecting public interest and needs.
People can raise issues on unsafe products via the existing government petition websites such as Sinmungo, where citizens can voice their complaints. However, the existing system is an inadequate tool for the government to respond to prevailing public opinion.
The new system is different because it performs an in-depth analysis on the risk factors directly raised by the public and extra test items have been added to the existing standard test items.
※ Extra test items: △(Wet wipe) fluorescence agent, △(Diapers) Volatile Organic Compounds VOCs, △(Weight loss drinks) Medicinal ingredients such as diuretics and laxatives.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The Korean citizens played an essential role in designing On-Demand Public Food and Drug Inspection System, as the system requires people’s active participation.
Korea’s civil society organizations and expert groups were also important in the process. The targets and scope of inspection were selected after listening to public opinion and were then finalized by the Committee on System, a group of civil society activists and experts.
The committee also reviews the inspection results.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
As it is not feasible to inspect every product that people raise concerns about, the products that are ultimately subject to inspections are those that many people request to be inspected. To ensure public trust in the results of inspections, the committee selects the products that will be inspected and publicly discloses the results .
‘On-Demand Public Food and Drug Inspection System’ is a system to serves the needs of the people from the beginning to the end of the cycle.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
- From April 24 to December 31 2018, more than 390,000 people visited ‘On-Demand Public Food and Drug Inspection System’ website, and the total number of requests amounted to 547. The MFDS’s Facebook page got 3,339 comments and 1,176 likes.
- Three inspections requested by the people were completed: wet wipes (Sep. 2018), diapers (Dec. 2018) and weight loss drinks (Nov. 2018), and disclosed the results.
- Increased public satisfaction with government services thanks to a new platform where the people can make requests for the government to collect and inspect certain products and publicly disclose the results.
- A survey found that 82.9% of the respondents said that they “hope that the system continues to work” and 95% that “the system is useful in ensuring the safety of everyday products.”
Challenges and Failures
- Time to promote public awareness of the system was limited. Public participation is key to the system's success, but there was insufficient time to ensure public awareness.
- To prevent overlapping requests and to make the best use of the system, the government should include a user identity verification procedure.
- It is difficult to immediately respond to public concerns regarding food or drug safety, as it takes considerable amounts of time to select the products subject to inspection and to collect and inspect the products. It may take three to four months or more from the date of inspection request to publicly disclose the results.
Conditions for Success
❍ Public participation is essential because the system relies on the people to make requests to inspect a specific product, and actual inspection is conducted when many people make their voices heard.
❍ Government policy and its roles:
- A set of principles and rules must precede the operation of the system.
- Measures to make sure that there is no abuse of the system (e.g. use of the system as a platform for venting anger, misleading the public or carrying out personal attacks on others) are required .
- Experts from various fields are needed to establish and amend the principles and rules for system operation, formulation of the committee, product collection and inspection, as well as for promoting awareness of the system.
The below are key to the replication of the innovation:
❍ Public participation: as the system requires that the public submit their requests, public participation is essential.
❍ Meticulous planning and preparation:
- Makes it easier to make requests and set up a robust system by operating a large online server.
- Organizing a dedicated task force and establish operation guidelines
- Conducting both internal and external survey, hold discussions and conduct simulations to prevent possible problems that may arise in the system’s implementation.
❍ Transparency of the examination:
- To maintain objectivity and validity, the committee is involved in designating products subject to inspection and inspection items to minimize government intervention. The committee’s members are experts in relevant fields, including professors, consumer advocacy activists, the press and legal consultants.
❍ The need to prevent abuse of the system due to its anonymity
- It must be made clear that the product in question is not defective or faulty until the inspection results prove otherwise.
- For this reason, whether to disclose the name of the product, company, etc. must be decided in advance.
❍ The need to distinguish inspection target from non-inspection target
- The scope of inspection shall be determined by the following items: sanitation inspection of a specific manufacturer or an enterprise, product complaint report, ingredient analysis, suspicions over fake food products, etc.
❍ The need to have a clear understanding of what it is that people want to know from the inspection
- Items (agriculture, livestock and fisheries products, pharmaceuticals and more), place of origin (domestic or foreign), point of sale (manufacturer, retailer, etc.), responsibilities (government department’s oversight responsibilities), etc.
- Ideally, the whole government should cooperate, but if it is impossible, it will be forced to do so within the scope of each administration.
21 May 2019