Sun, Jul 16, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Inspections not enough to ensure food safety

By Lee Wu-chung 李武忠

The Legislative Yuan on July 5 added three projects to the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program to improve food safety, boost the birth rate and cultivate talent.

For the food safety project, the Food and Drug Administration has planned a budget of more than NT$5 billion (US$164.4 million) — later reduced to about NT$3 billion by the Executive Yuan — to build laboratories and testing facilities, and to purchase inspection vehicles.

However, such an approach is questionable, because food safety needs to be monitored from the source, rather than tested after the production process.

If the nation wants to create an effective system to ensure food safety, it must address every aspect of food production from the farm to the moment it is served.

This would require increased regulations, information and education on food safety, as well as more inspection staff, technologies and facilities among others.

Every aspect is interconnected and requires full cooperation between local governments, the Council of Agriculture, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the Environmental Protection Administration and the courts.

However, the project focuses solely on enhancing food inspection hardware, which is not very forward-looking.

Regarding the source of agricultural products, conventional farming — which uses chemical fertilizers and herbicides — is the most common practice in the nation. Although organic, toxin-free agricultural products are healthier, they are rare and too expensive for most people.

The government should prioritize the promotion of affordable and healthier agricultural products by helping develop farming technologies and plant genetics.

If organic and toxin-free agricultural products could become part of the nation’s mainstream diet, it would help reduce the cost of medical treatment and care services, and allow older people to live healthier, more dignified lives.

As for the sale of food products, despite the government’s efforts to promote four food certification labels and a traceability system using QR codes, the pesticide levels in many such products have been found to exceed legal limits, and there have been some cases of counterfeited certification labels.

As a result, consumers have little faith in the food inspection system.

The government should utilize technologies such as big data, blockchain and open-access information, as well as develop efficient testing technologies to build a system that covers all the important aspects of food safety.

With increased trade liberalization, the government needs to be prepared for more imported food, which is more difficult to trace and will increase the types of food available in the market.

Specifically, the government will need to enhance inspections for foreign goods before they are imported, constantly update its food database and require importers to be responsible for ensuring food safety and obtaining certification.

This should be one of the priorities of the government’s food safety project.

Policies should be designed to promote public interest first and foremost. Economic or social policies that are designed to promote certain ideologies or help a party win the next election never really work.

The development program was initially met with considerable criticism from the public, which led to several minor adjustments in the final plan.

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