Wed, Jul 16, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Foundation warns over gel candies

DANGEROUS SWEETS Consumer activists want warning labels put on the packaging and sizing changes to make the candy safer for small kids

By Annabel Lue  /  STAFF REPORTER

A little girl enjoys a gel-cup candy at a press conference held yesterday by the Consumers' Foundation. The group warned parents to watch their children when eating the candy and urged the government to make manufacturers put warning labels on the sweets, which have been linked to the deaths of several children.

PHOTO: WANG YI-SUNG, TAIPEI TIMES

The Consumers' Foundation (消基會) yesterday reiterated its call for the government to take a tough stand against local manufacturers of gel-cup candies, which are very popular with children.

Gel-cup candies have been blamed for the choking deaths of two children in this country, nine in Japan and six in the US over the last four years.

"The authorities should really do something to strictly regulate these gel sweets before more accidents happen," said Cheng Jen-hung (程仁宏), secretary-general of the foundation.

The fruit-flavored candies, also known as Mini Fruit Jellys or Mini Fruit Cups, are usually packed in small, soft plastic cups and are design to be sucked into the mouth and then chewed slowly.

A key ingredient is Conjac, which prevents the gel from dissolving easily.

Small children could be placed at risk of choking if they swallowed the gel without throughly chewing the candy first.

The foundation's new warning came after a California court last week ordered Sheng Hsiang Jen Foods Co (盛香珍食品), the country's largest maker of gel candies, to pay US$50 million to the family of a two-year-old Chinese-American boy who died after choking on one of the company's gel candies in February 2001.

"The government has been spineless for years and therefore gel makers are reluctant to make improvements," Cheng said.

The foundation says the lack of safety measures contributes to the candy's dangerousness.

"Almost all gel-cup candies sold in this market don't have large warning labels indicating the potential danger [of choking]," Cheng said.

He urged manufacturers to change the size of the gel-cups and put large warning labels on the outside of the candy's packaging.

"If companies refuse to comply, the authorities should follow the US practice of pulling all non-compliant gel-cup candies from shelves," Cheng said.

In August 2001, the US Food and Drug Administration announced a ban on the import of the gel-cup candies. Several European nations, as well as Canada and South Korea, also banned the sweets after the US took action.

A health official who attended the foundation's press conference said the government may ask manufacturers to slice the gel in each cup into smaller pieces.

However, Wen Chang-an (文長安), a senior specialist at the Department of Health's Bureau of Food Sanitation, said there are no regulations at present that could force manufacturers to comply with government demands.

Meanwhile, an official at Sheng Hsiang Jen said it would be difficult for candymakers to make changes in the packaging.

"We would like to comply and to put large warnings [on packaging], but changing the size of the products is not a practical solution," Lee Lien-yu (李連佑), a Sheng Hsiang Jen official, said yesterday.

He said the company did alter the size of its gel-cup candies last year, turning them into large heart-shaped gels, but the market response was not good.

According to Lee, the company's exports dropped 90 percent after the switch to larger-sized products was made last year.

"Consumers like the small-cup sized candies better ? one candy per cup is the fun part of the sweet," Lee said.

In early 2001, before the US imposed its ban on gel-cup candies, Taiwanese manufacturers exported an estimated NT$6.38 million worth of gel candies every month, according the Taiwan Confectionery, Biscuit and Floury Food Association (糖果餅乾公會).

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