On Wednesday, Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) called a press conference at which he presented eight measures for dealing with the ongoing recycled oil scandal. Ignoring whether these measures point in the right direction and whether it will be possible to make them permanent, it remains that they are issues that must be implemented under the direction of the central government.
This, of course, raises the question of whether the 10 action plans proposed by the government during last year’s food scandals were successful. It also makes it clear that although the central government has an absolute responsibility to deal with food safety issues, it is now kindly passing on all responsibility for this incident to the local government in Pingtung.
The reason that the cooking oil scandal occurred at all is that the food safety system is fraught with structural problems.
The central government has failed to establish a mechanism for effectively controlling and managing the sources of raw materials used in the food manufacturing industry and it has also failed to establish procedures for collecting data on the total volume of cooking oil waste and where it ends up.
Added to this is that the prestige offered by food safety certifications has lost any meaning, damaging the reputations of many reputable manufacturers.
Local governments carry out their inspections only after an incident has occurred, which does nothing to prevent future incidents, and even if they were to find something at an early stage, they can do nothing to prevent people from using products they have already bought.
Food security has to do with people’s right to subsistence and the government has an absolute responsibility to protect basic human rights. The handling of the past plasticizer, starch and waste oil scandals has helped the Greater Tainan City Government establish principles for source management, blocking supply routes, tracing raw materials and informing stores about the use of legal ingredients.
Last year, it established a joint cross-departmental food safety task force, and by setting up a vertical contact system, improving inspections and test functions and clearly dividing responsibilities, Greater Tainan set up a control and management system that helps protect residents’ health.
Here are a few concrete suggestions for the central government about the waste oil fracas.
First, it should register and manage all imported oils and refine its grasp of overall volumes and where these oils end up, to prevent oil for industrial use and animal feed from contaminating products where they can harm public health.
It should also set up clear regulations for the disposal of cooking oil waste and create legal channels for handling such waste to avoid opening legal loopholes.
Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Administration should set up a certification system for the waste removal and recycling industries.
It should also immediately rebuild public trust in the Good Manufacturing Practices certification system and re-establish that system’s authority so the public and businesses can feel safe when they buy oil products.
Finally, penalties must be effective deterrents. Simply issuing heavy penalties for big offenses will not necessarily achieve the desired effects.
When dealing with the collapse of food safety, the central government must work with local administrations, as must the Cabinet and the legislature.
The government must set up a permanent food safety mechanism to be overcome current problems and restore both public confidence in food safety and Taiwan’s international image.
William Lai is mayor of Greater Tainan.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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