Sat, Nov 02, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Safe food has become a ‘luxury’

By Tan Wei-en and Tsai Yu-tai 譚偉恩,蔡育岱

As a result, their farm products are not easy to sell in general markets or, even if the opportunity avails itself, it is hard for them to compete with industrially produced farm products and processed foods.

The rules of the game are that the fittest survive and the less fit are eliminated. Consequently, food produced by non-industrial methods are getting pushed off the scene bit-by-bit. Even before consumers have realized how very limited their choices are, they face increased risk with regard to food safety because of the growing chance of encountering food-borne diseases and chemical additives.

These things are hard to change because the problem has to do with the structure of economic markets. Consumers are disadvantaged in their access to information, and businesses that have the data at their fingertips have little motivation to provide consumers with full and transparent information.

Perhaps the government should play the role of manager, but such a role will be restricted by its unwillingness to interfere in the market and a lack of political benefits. Consequently, it is usually only after food safety incidents are brought to light and become a focus of attention that the government takes action to placate the public. This tendency is another key factor behind the never-ending series of food scares.

There may be some ways to counterbalance or reduce the negative impact that the economic structure has on food safety, but until they are implemented, people have to accept the reality that, in this industrial age, safe food has become something of a luxury.

Unless consumers are willing and able to buy relatively high-priced foods, such as organic rice and vegetables grown without agricultural chemicals, or food made by hand by family businesses on a limited scale, they have little chance of getting away from risky food.

If market demand for organic and similar foods starts to grow, profit-seeking businesses will surely find ways of getting in on the trend. When that happens, it is foreseeable that some companies will use novel and alluring marketing techniques to dishonestly sell healthy-looking foods that are not really what they seem.

Tan Wei-en is a member of the International Association for Food Protection’s Asian food safety program. Tsai Yu-tai is a professor in the Institute of Strategic Studies and International Affairs at National Chung Cheng University.

Translated by Julian Clegg

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