China and South Korea's dispute over food safety - specifically, the question of non-vegetable ingredients in the spicy national dish kimchi - has taken on a new twist. South Korea has complained about the purity of kimchi made in China, but now Korean scientists have admitted the same problem - parasite eggs - exists in South Korea's own kimchi. Authorities in Seoul hope to resolve the issue before China's president and other world leaders arrive for a summit later this month.
Kimchi, a spicy, fermented pickled vegetable dish, is not just a beloved side dish here in South Korea. It is also big business. This year, South Korea has imported about $40 million worth of kimchi from China, and exported more than 200 tons of its own kimchi to Japan.
Kimchi, usually made of cabbage or radish, gets its piquancy from ginger, red pepper and garlic, but now there are questions about other ingredients.
Kim Myung-hyun of the South Korean Food and Drug Administration disclosed Thursday that examiners have discovered parasite eggs in certain types of South Korean-produced kimchi.
Scientists analyzed 502 South Korean kimchi products, Mr. Kim says, and found 16 brands contained roundworm eggs - possibly as a result of contact with animal excrement.
The discovery complicates a kimchi dispute that has been simmering with China since September, when a lawmaker publicized findings of high lead levels in imported Chinese kimchi. South Korean imports of Chinese kimchi plummeted.
Beijing questioned the study's scientific methods, and criticized Seoul for exposing the results before China could check for itself. Then, two weeks ago, South Korea dealt Chinese kimchi imports another blow by announcing that some of them were contaminated with parasite eggs.
On Monday, in an apparent retaliatory move, China banned imports of 10 South Korean products, including kimchi, on the grounds that it, too, carried parasite eggs.
South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon says Seoul is eager to avoid any escalation of the dispute.
Mr. Ban says South Korea and China are now cooperating closely on issues of food safety, for the benefit of both countries.
Spicy though it is, Kimchi is just a small portion of South Korea and China's annual trade, now nearly $80 billion a year. The trade relationship is one of the topics to be discussed when South Korea hosts world leaders this month at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum.