Ministry backs proposed ban on use of drug references in food ads

A photo of a shop window sign installed by Monyeo Gimbap, one of the many food vendors in Gwangjang Traditional Market who sell ‘mayak gimbap’, seaweed rolled rice with a spicy mustard sauce. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)

Alarmed by a rapid rise in drug-related crime, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said on Tuesday it backed a legislative proposal to ban references to narcotics in food advertisements as something irresistibly good.

“Using drug references to promote food can have a negative effect on children or adolescents,” a ministry official said.

“Once the proposed bill is passed by the National Assembly, the ministry will take action, including developing an enforcement order to restrict the use of the term ‘mayak’ in food advertisements.”

Meaning drugs or narcotics in Korean, mayak has recently become a fashionable adjective to describe good tasting food. Its most famous use is in Seoul’s Gwangjang Market’s signature Mayan gimbap, the seaweed rice roll.

Earlier in August, a group of lawmakers led by Rep. Kwon Eun-hee of the ruling People’s Power Party introduced a bill to revise the current Food Labeling and Advertising Law, which seeks to ban “expressions associated with drugs or harmful objects”. in terms of food marketing. It is currently in parliamentary deliberation.

“Currently, the law only prohibits the use of vulgar or other words that could stir up a speculative impulse in people. Phrases like ‘mayak gimbap’ or ‘mayak tteokbokki (spicy rice cake)’ should be banned, given the seriousness of drug problems,” Kwon told reporters.

The bill comes amid a growing number of drug offenses in Korea, catching the once proudly drug-free nation by surprise.

Over the past four years, more than 200 cases of crimes are committed here under the influence of narcotics each year, according to data from the National Police Agency.

The number of such crimes rose to 221 in 2018, 236 in 2019, 182 in 2020 and 230 last year, an annual average of 217.

By Choi Jae-hee ([email protected])

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