Surveys show that 82.2 percent of Taiwanese do not trust the safety of food products, while 69.5 percent do not trust food manufacturers’ labeling, information or safety reports. This indicates that rebuilding a safe food environment can only happen with concerted efforts by government officials, manufacturers, consumers and the media.
First, government officials must be held accountable. Since so many food safety incidents have occurred, it is important to identify where the problems are in government departments responsible for food safety. For example, officials knew early on that there was a shortage of domestically produced edible flower ingredients and medicinal herbs, yet they failed to take precautionary measures to address the significant risk of cheap foreign imports containing pesticide residue.
By contrast, if there was a food scare in Japan, heads would roll, with even the Japanese prime minister vulnerable.
However, in Taiwan, when Chyuan Shun Food Enterprise was found to have mixed rice imported from Vietnam with domestically grown rice and labeled it as produced in the nation, Taiwanese officials remained unscathed.
Since there are clear lines of responsibility leading to government departments responsible for food safety, implementing a firm and fair system of reward and punishment for government officials should be a top priority.
Second, unscrupulous manufacturers should be shut down. With each food safety problem, the manufacturer in question always pleads innocence. However, toxic companies deserve no forgiveness. These companies should pay a heavy price and be forced to close their factories, or even to file for bankruptcy. It is hoped that the business community takes the initiative to regulate itself to win back consumers’ trust.
Third, consumers need to adopt a tougher stance. After all, “you get what you pay for.” Consumers should refrain from purchasing unlabeled food products or those of questionable origin, and support law-abiding manufacturers. In doing so, consumers would help ensure good money drives out bad.
For example, last year’s boycott of Ting Hsin International Group’s products failed to make an impact, because the group launched a special promotion. Taiwanese consumers need to recognize which manufacturers are repeat offenders.
In Japan, there is only one outcome in such situations: The offending company goes into administration. It is hoped that Taiwanese consumers closely monitor businesses and governments, helping ensure proper checks are carried out.
Fourth, the media have a role to play. Taiwanese media outlets, perhaps due to advertising revenue or political considerations, have so far been unable to fully escape the pressure from manufacturing companies and indolent government officials. This is the primary reason food safety has become a living nightmare for Taiwanese.
Japanese media outlets are much stronger in this respect: As soon as a food safety issue breaks, there is no one who can escape their wrath. It must be hoped that Taiwanese media outlets fully bring to bear the supervisory power of the fourth estate to help ensure food safety.
The only way to restore order is for these parties to work to develop an indestructible safety net, helping make life not worth living for villainous and immoral industrialists. Only then will society be able to keep in check the evil intentions of other manufacturers and restore Taiwan’s reputation as a land of fine dining.
Lee Wu-chung is a professor of agricultural economics and former director of the Yunlin County Government’s Department of Agriculture.
Translated by Edward Jones
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