The nation has recently been hit by a string of food safety scandals, including problems with contaminated starch, soy sauce, zongzi (粽子, glutinous rice dumplings), altered expiration dates and with a well-known organic brown rice brand testing positive for pesticide residue.
These incidents have not only damaged public trust in the government’s ability to assure food safety, but have also left everyone at a loss as to what is safe to eat.
Some people are starting to plant their own fruit and vegetables, make their own flour products and cut down on eating out to ensure their safety.
All this has happened in the two years following the plasticizer scandal that shook the nation.
However, the problem remains the same, with upstream suppliers using contaminated ingredients that they pass on to middle and downstream companies, which use these ingredients widely, perhaps unknowingly.
In the end, it is consumers who get hurt the most because they have no idea how many unsafe food products they have consumed.
Although the legislature’s quick amendment of the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) to increase fines and penalties may have some effect — although compound additives are not regulated — it has not offered any additional protection for consumers that have already been affected.
All these people can do is curse their bad luck, because it is difficult to provide any direct evidence of the effect of these inferior food products.
To put consumers’ minds at ease, the government now requires retailers to obtain safety guarantees from manufacturers of eight major product groups containing starch and to display these safety guarantees where consumers can easily see them.
Forcing downstream retailers to guarantee the safety of their suppliers’ products is problematic and not entirely reasonable.
For example, the starch that the manufacturer sent for testing might be different from the product that it provides stores with, or some suppliers even stick forged documentation on their products to appear that they have passed the required tests.
Recently, the Homemaker’s Union Consumer’s Co-op initiated a test of 29 products containing starch.
Two of these products still came up positive for maleic anhydride, despite manufacturers providing safety guarantees.
Though stores hang up signs and reports stating that their products have passed the necessary safety tests, consumers have remained nervous and sales have failed to pick up again.
Similar things happened frequently in the past during the testing of agricultural and fish products.
Later, it was required that the testing bodies or organizations entrusted by the government send staff to take samples, seal them and send them in for testing. These measures eventually solved the problems.
Apart from dealing with manufacturers involved in the forgery of documents in accordance with the law, the government should also revise the current standard operating procedures for taking samples for testing and increase the related penalties as soon as possible.
This would help to prevent manufacturers from taking advantage of any loopholes.
In the face of the current high risks associated with food additives, experts have suggested that consumers purchase pure, unprocessed foods and cut down on eating processed food products.
Not only can eating more natural and less processed foods help consumers avoid contact with industrial materials like plasticizers or maleic anhydride, it is also beneficial to the promotion of domestic agriculture.