U.S. Exporter Support   >   Regulations

Regulations

The following information is meant to provide a short description of key regulatory issues that U.S. exporters often face difficulties in finding relevant information or have questions in exporting products to Korea. For additional details, please refer to the FAIRS Country Report, the FAIRS Certificate Report and the FAIRS Subject report from the USDA/FAS/GAIN site

Disclaimer

This was prepared by U.S. Embassy Seoul’s Office of Agricultural Affairs (OAA) for exporters of U.S.-origin food and agricultural products. While every effort was taken to ensure accuracy, some information may have changed since posting. We recommend that U.S. exporters verify all import requirements with their international customers before any goods are shipped. Final import approval of any product is subject to the importing country’s rules and regulations, as interpreted by border officials at the point of entry and/or the time the product enters into commerce.

Maximum Residue Levels

Differences in permitted residue levels for pesticides and veterinary drugs can sometimes be non-tariff barriers to trade. Exporters are encouraged to ensure products to be exported to Korea meet Korea’s established levels.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) began implementation of the Positive List System (PLS) for pesticide in all agricultural products on January 1, 2019. As such, a 0.01ppm default tolerance applies when there is no established MRL in the Korean Food Code. Korea has three categories of MRLs in their Food Code: one is for national MRLs based upon domestic registration, another is for import tolerances that are based upon residue data from the third country, and the other consists of temporary MRLs that are set for a smooth PLS implementation. These temporary MRLs will be deleted after the end of 2021 unless national MRLs or import tolerances are set by that time.

To check the Korean MRLs, please follow instructions below

1. Go to http://www.foodsafetykorea.go.kr/foodcode/index.jsp and click on the graphic with “pesticide MRLs”
2. MRLs can be searched by chemical name or food name by clicking a menu bar on the top

Food Additives

MFDS’s Food Additive Code stipulates how additives should be used in foods. As of December 2019, Korea has a positive list of 619 approved food additives, 7 types of mixed additive substances and 13 sanitizers permitted for use in food equipment.

Most additives and/or preservatives are approved and tolerance levels are established on a product-by-product basis. This sometimes creates difficulties as tolerances can vary from product to product. Even though there may be an established CODEX standard for a given food additive, if that food additive is not registered in the Korean Food Additive Code, or even if it is registered but usage in a certain food product is not specified, then use of that food additive in the given food product is prohibited.

Getting a new additive added to the approved list can take up to a year. The “Guidelines for Designation of Food Additives” explain the detailed information required for the approval of a new additive.

Sanitary and Phytosanitary Requirements

To prevent the introduction of pests and diseases, the Korean government requires sanitary or phytosanitary certificates issued by the exporting country’s inspection authority for importation of live animals, live plants, plant products including fruits and vegetables, and animal products including meat. This requirement is in accordance with the Livestock Epidemics Prevention & Control Act, the Plant Protection Act, and the Act on Sanitary Control of Livestock Products. As there are two government agencies that require the certificates, each certificate needs to come with a duplicate certificate (Korea will not accept a photo copy).

For the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), issues sanitary and phytosanitary certificates for live animals and plants, as well as plant and animal products, while the USDA, Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), issues health certificates for meat products. Certification for egg and egg products are issued by either FSIS or AMS, depending on the type of the egg product. Exporters should verify requirements for export to Korea before shipping.

Meat and Meat Products (Beef, pork, poultry):

Current information on which U.S. livestock and poultry products are eligible for export to the Korean market can be found on the following USDA, Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) link: Livestock Export. This site also provides guidance regarding what documents must accompany livestock product shipments destined for Korea.

Special Requirements for Beef:

Currently, MAFRA only allows for the import of U.S. beef from cattle less than 30-months of age. The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Quality Systems Assessment (QSA) program verifies that the beef being certified is from cattle less than 30 months of age. At this time, Korea will not accept at port-of-entry shipments of beef without the QSA program statement in the Remarks section of the FSIS 9060-5 as described in the Documentation section. Korean quarantine officials will return shipments without the statement to the owner/agent of the product.


In addition, Korea requires that beef imports come from plants approved under the Export Verification (EV) Program set up by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Beef must be slaughtered and/or processed at plants listed in the Official Listing of Bovine Eligible Suppliers (aka, USDA Bovine EV Programs).


Beef that was slaughtered and processed at an EV program can be exported after being stored in a warehouse approved by USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service.

Biotechnology

Korea is heavily dependent on imported food (except rice) and feed grains. A limited number of food products are produced from biotechnology due to negative consumer sentiment. Whereas, the bulk of livestock feed is produced from biotech corn and soybeans. The United States is the top genetically engineered (GE) grain exporter to Korea.

Imports of biotech grains as well as GE animals are regulated under the Living Modified Organism Act, which implements the provisions of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and serves as the overarching legislation for regulation of GE products.

Korea has two separate approval systems for biotechnology crops: approval for human consumption (a food safety approval) and an environmental risk assessment (ERA). Both approvals are mandatory. Korea’s biotechnology approval process lacks transparency and predictability, and questions asked by regulatory reviewers are often repetitive or lack scientific basis, which may lead approval delays.

Labeling

All imported food products are required to carry legible Korean language labels. Stickers or tags may be used, but should not be easily removable nor should they cover the original label. Labels must contain the following information listed below

  • Product name.
  • Product type. This is the minimum unit of food product categories according to the Standards & Specifications for Food.
  • Importer's name and address, and the address where products may be returned or exchanged in the event of defects.
  • Name of manufacturer. The actual foreign manufacturer name shall be stated. If it is written in a foreign language (e.g. English), no Korean translation is necessary
  • Manufacture date (year, month and day). This is mandatory for specially designated products, such as boxed lunches, rice roll in seaweed, hamburgers, sandwiches, sushi, sugar, edible salts frozen dessert (ice candies) and alcoholic beverages (excluding beer and Korean traditional rice liquor since they are required to indicate shelf life or best before date). For alcoholic beverages, a manufacture number (lot number) or bottling date may substitute for the manufacture date.
  • Shelf life or best before date. Food product labels should indicate the manufacturer-determined shelf life. Products that are subject to a manufacturer date may be excluded from the shelf life labeling requirements. Products including jams, saccharide products (e.g. dextrin, oligosaccharide, fructose, and sugar syrup), sterilized liquid teas and coffee, sterilized beverages, bean based sauce and paste, sterilized curry products, vinegar, kimchi, salted and fermented seafood (jutgal), pickled products, sterilized hard boiled products, beer, starch, honey, wheat flour, products with long shelf life such as retort foods or canned products may use either a best before date
  • Contents (Calories). Weight, volume or number of pieces should be indicated. If the number of pieces is shown, the weight or volume must be indicated in parentheses. Calories are only required for food products subject to nutritional labeling.
  • Ingredient names and content. The names of all ingredients are required on the Korean language label. However, for those products with a principal display panel smaller than 30 cm2, only the top five ingredients are required.
  • Additives. Food additives must also be listed by full name, abbreviated name, or purpose as they are listed in the Korean Food Additive Code or Labeling Standards for Foods (e.g. Sodium Saccharin (Sweetener)).
  • Nutrients. Only designated products are subject to nutritional labeling. Products include special purpose food products, bread (cake, doughnuts, bread loaf, other bakery goods), noodles, retort foods, edible oil and fats and dumplings, candy, chocolate, confectionary goods such as cookies, biscuits, snacks, jam, beverages, coffee (excluding roasted coffee and instant coffee), and soy sauces and pastes (excluding Korean fermented soy bean cube, Korean soy sauce made of Korean fermented soy bean cube, Korean soy paste and fermented soybean paste), frozen dessert (ice candies), fish sausages, rice roll, hamburgers, sandwiches, milk, processed milk, fermented milk, milk powder, cheese, hams, sausages, ice cream, processed cocoa products, cereal (breakfast cereal), and instant food (pre-packaged food for ready to cook).
  • Other items designated by the detailed labeling standards for food. This includes cautions and standards for use or preservation (e.g., drained weight for canned products, radiation-processed products, etc.). The use of photos or pictures of fruit is not permitted on the label unless the product contains the corresponding natural flavor or ingredient.

There are several categories exempted from the abovementioned labeling requirements including agricultural products such as grains; fishery items, such as whole frozen fish; and fruits, that are not contained in a container or package, etc., carcasses, bulk type livestock products on which a label cannot be place such as tallow and lard and food to be used for manufacturing for a company’s own use. In this case, limited information is required on the label.

Labeling Guidelines for Genetically Modified Food:

Unprocessed and processed food products containing detectable genetically engineered (GE) ingredients must carry “genetically modified” (GM) food labels. Examples of GM labels are as follows:

Cases Examples
GE grains or oilseeds “GM corn” or “GM soy”
Products containing GE grains or oilseeds “Containing GM corn” or “Containing GM soy”
May contain GE grains/oilseeds “May contain GM corn” or “May contain GM soy”
Food product with detectable GE component (labeled on either principal display panel or ingredient panel) Principal Display Panel “GM Food”, “GM Food Additive”, “GM Health Functional Food”, “Food product containing GM soy”, “Food additives containing GM corn”, or “Health functional food containing GM corn”
Ingredient Panel “GM” or “GM soy” or “GM corn” in parentheses next to a name of raw ingredient on the ingredient panel
Food products containing GE ingredients from multiple sources Principal Display Panel “May contain GM corn and soy”
Food products for which detectable GE component is uncertain. Principal Display Panel “May contain GM soy” or “May contain GM corn”
Ingredient Panel “May contain GM soy” or “May contain GM corn” in parentheses next to a name of raw ingredient on the ingredient panel

Products exempted from GM labels include cooking oil, sugar (glucose, fructose, taffy, sugar syrups, etc.), soy sauce, modified starch, and alcoholic beverages (beer, whisky, brandy, liqueur, distilled spirits, etc.). Supporting document are not required for exemptions from GE labeling requirements for these products. It also exempts processing aids, such as enzymes, carriers, diluents, and stabilizers derived from biotech from GM labeling, but manufacturers are required to provide documentation to support such use.

Korea allows for up to three percent unintentional presence of approved GE components in unprocessed conventional products that carry an identity preserved or government certificate. Only negative test results issued by Korea’s accredited laboratory is accepted. Intentional mixture of GE ingredients requires GE labeling even if the final presence of biotech/GE ingredients is within the three percent threshold

Organics

The United States and Korea reached an equivalency arrangement on processed organic food products on July 1, 2014. Under the arrangement, as long as the terms of the arrangement are met, certified organic products in the U.S. may be sold as organic in the Korean market and display the Korean organic logo, and vice versa for Korean products. The scope of the arrangement is as below:

Beginning July 1, 2014, the arrangement covers products which:

  • Are certified according to USDA or Korean organic regulations
  • Are “processed products” as defined by the Korean Food Code
  • Contain at least 95% organic ingredients
  • Have their final processing (as defined in the Korean Food Code) occur in the U.S. or Korea
  • U.S. products: do not contain apples or pears produced with the use of antibiotics
  • Korean products: do not contain livestock products produced with the use of antibiotics

U.S. processed organic products exported to Korea must be accompanied by the NAQS Import Certificate of Organic Processed Foods that includes the statement “Certified in compliance with the terms of the U.S. - Korea Organic Equivalency Arrangement.” Also, a copy of USDA/NOP organic certificate shall be submitted for import inspection in Korea.


Both fresh (unprocessed) produce and livestock products that is not covered by the equivalency is required to get an organic certification issued by Korea’s accredited certifying agents to be sold as organic in Korea. The certification for organic produce is classified into two categories: organic and no-pesticide. For livestock products, two categories of certification are available: organic livestock and antibiotic-free livestock.

Organic agricultural produce and livestock products complying with the U.S. organic standards or international standards still require certification from a Korean accredited certification agency.

100% Ingredient Breakdown Not Required for Import Clearance

The Korean government does not require 100% ingredient composition breakdown information on the import application for imported processed food products to enter Korea. What is required is percentage breakdown of major ingredients (for example, top one or two ingredients used by weight or volume and percentage of ingredient used as part of product name) only and percentages of food additives in the product in case Korea has tolerances established on the additives. As for food additives used in composite ingredient (for example, vegetable juice that contains food additives added to make sausages), the supplier may need to submit detailed information to verify if the product meets the Korean food additive standards.

Regulatory Agencies in Korea

Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS): This agency is responsible for establishing and enforcing regulations for food and livestock products including dairy and egg products and import inspection of such products upon arrival. In addition, MFDS sets and implements regulations governing safety evaluations of GE products, GE labeling requirements for both agricultural products and processed food products, and the maximum residue limits for agricultural products and veterinary drugs.

Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA): This agency is responsible for establishing and enforcing regulations pertaining to overall agricultural policy and quarantine inspection of agricultural products, including livestock and forestry products. Key agencies under MAFRA include.

  • Animal, Plant and Fisheries Quarantine Inspection Agency: responsible for quarantine and sanitary control of animal and plant products
  • National Agricultural Product Quality Management Service: responsible for country of origin marks, organic certification, quality and grade standards, etc.
  • Rural Development Administration: responsible for feed approval of GE products, registration of agricultural chemicals, etc.

Agricultural Trade Office, U.S. Embassy - Seoul
Tel: 82-2-6951-6848 Fax: 82-2-720-7921
Email: atoseoul@state.gov