Country of Origin Labeling at Restaurants in Korea

SOUTH KOREA - South Korea is planning to expand its current country-of-origin- labelling (COOL)requirements for beef to include large restaurants. This ruling will become affective from July 1, 2008. It is also believed that COOL will become mandatory for pork and poultry in 2009, which has left the industry with mixed reviews.
calendar icon 27 February 2008
clock icon 3 minute read

According to a United States Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service news release, the South Korean Ministry of Welfare and Health (MHW) currently requires COOL at food service institutions larger than 300m2 to display the country of origin for raw beef when it is used as the main ingredient in roasted meat dishes. Acceptable labeling methods include menus, displays, panels etc. This requirement has had limited impact since less than 4,000 establishments are larger than 300m2.

However, beginning July 1, 2008, this requirement will be expanded to include operations 100 m2 or larger. The Korean Restaurant Association (KRA), an organization representing most domestic restaurants, estimates that this change will impact about 20,000 of its members serving beef.

Furthermore, starting January 1, 2009, COOL for pork and chicken becomes mandatory for restaurants 100 m2 or larger. There are more than 65,000 restaurants serving beef, pork or chicken. See table below for additional details. This expanded requirement is expected to discourage mislabeling and is part of the government’s comprehensive plan to promote the competitiveness of domestic agriculture.

Industry Response to Expanded Regulation:

The expanded COOL regulation has been met with mixed reviews.

According to KRA, there about 65,000 restaurants larger than 100 m2 serving beef. KRA and U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF)/Seoul conducted a joint survey to determine the expected consumer response to this change. The survey revealed that when given the option the majority of consumers would choose high-quality inexpensive U.S. beef. USMEF feels this labeling requirement will be helpful in promoting U.S. beef.

KRA appears supportive of the change and does not feel that it will discourage sales of U.S. imports. However, KRA has some reservations regarding implementation since provincial governments are expected to interpret and enforce the COOL regulation differently. In an effort to address this situation, KRA plans to request an extension and will work with provincial authorities to develop a unified interpretation.

In contrast, a large rice wholesaler senses that this new regulation could impact sales of foreign rice to restaurants. The Korea Agro-Fisheries Trade Corporation (aT) estimates that roughly 90 percent of imported table rice is consumed in large-scale restaurants and food institutions located inside industrial complexes. Some of these restaurants are reportedly reluctant to display the country of origin fearing negative consumer reaction.

Other COOL Requirements:

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) has rules that apply to agricultural goods sold at wholesale and retail outlets. Meanwhile, the Korean Customs Service has similar COOL requirements for the purposes of import inspection (KS6109).

Restaurant Sizes of KRA Members (As of June 2007)
  Under 100 square meters Between 100 – 300 square meters Over 300 square meters Total
Number of Members 434,247 127,246 12,146 573,639
Share (%) 75.7% 22.2% 2.1% 100%
Restaurants Serving Meat, including Beef, Pork or Chicken etc.
  Under 100 square meters Between 100 – 300 square meters Over 300 square meters Total
Number of Members 161,718 60,152 6,482 228,352
Share (%) 70.8% 26.3% 2.8% 100%
Restaurants Only Serving Beef
  Under 100 square meters Between 100 – 300 square meters Over 300 square meters Total
Number of Members 15,408 14,396 3,558 33,362
Share (%) 46.2% 43.2% 10.7% 100%
Source: Korea Restaurant Association (KRA)

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