Mon, Sep 08, 2014 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Heavy punishments the only answer

Less than one year after the industrial starch and adulterated oil cases sparked a nationwide food scare, a new tainted oil scandal has hit consumers at a time when the public prepare to eat mooncakes and barbecue with family or friends in celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Despite the rise of public attention to food safety and the authorities’ efforts to improve the quality of food manufacturing, the new scandal shows that there is still not enough being done to eliminate lawbreaking production lines.

More than 1,000 companies have reportedly purchased tainted lard oil products from manufacturer Chang Guann Co, directly or otherwise, with dissatisfied consumers returning goods and demanding refunds.

A number of well-known manufacturers, including Wei Chuan Foods Corp, Chi Mei Frozen Food Co and Sheng Hsiang Jen Foods Co, as well as some of the best-known bakeries, such as Yu Jen Jai and Lee Hu, have cried foul over the government’s Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certification system, because they have been placing orders with Chang Guann, a GMP-certified food manufacturer.

Nevertheless, how can those companies claim to be victims if they have not bothered to make on-site inspections at their suppliers’ production facilities? Make no mistake: It is simply an excuse for those companies to avoid being blamed by the public and penalized by the authorities. Stating publicly their intentions to demand huge compensation from Chang Guann is nothing but a smokescreen to cover their negligence about the quality of the ingredients they use.

Just as with the di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP, scandal in 2011, when plasticizers were found to have been used to produce food and beverages, and the adulterated cooking oil scandal last year, when so-called “pure oil products” from several local firms were found to have mixed premium olive and grapeseed oils with less expensive cottonseed oil, the government said it would get tough on violators and asked all companies involved to pull questionable products off the shelves.

However, many of those products — ranging from numerous fried snacks cooked using the tainted oil in night markets nationwide, to the tortilla-like wrap used in dan bing (egg pancakes) at the Good Morning breakfast chain and zongzi (glutinous rice dumplings) made by Black Bridge Foods, along with another 100 or more food items — were consumed long ago. Government officials said the health impact would be limited, but the damage is already done.

The loophole allowing food manufacturers to cut corners and companies to neglect their quality control duties exists because the current penalties are too lax. The latest scandal has prompted the Consumers’ Foundation and food experts to call on the government to revise the laws and maximize the penalties for breaking the law. The government must act on this plea or else its efforts to fight adulterated products will remain ineffective.

There has been a new vigilance in prosecuting careless food manufacturers, but this scandal has again damaged the nation’s international credibility. GMP certification or any other form of self-imposed measures in the food industry are not sufficient to ensure food safety.

Legislators and government officials must make the necessary law changes and enforce heavy punishments to deter lawbreakers, enhance the public’s eroding confidence in food authorities and rebuild the nation’s reputation.

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