Tue, Oct 03, 2017 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL:Time to get serious about food

In view of the recent cases of toxin-tainted eggs, many in Taiwan cannot help but wonder whether the nation’s food monitoring has descended into disarray.

Mooncakes sold at Tsai Tang Yao (采棠肴) in Taichung were last week found to contain Sudan IV, a toxic dye banned from use in food, and the problematic duck eggs were traced to two poultry farms in Yunlin County.

In August, eggs from three poultry farms in Changhua County were found to be tainted with the insecticide fipronil and last month the Taipei Department of Health recalled another 37,800 eggs after a Taipei egg wholesaler was found to be distributing eggs tainted with fipronil.

In April, eggs were found to have dioxin concentrations exceeding the national standard, prompting the removal of nearly 7 tonnes of eggs from retailers’ shelves.

From the plasticizers in drinks scare in 2011, to the 2014 oil scandal, involving mislabeled cooking oil with illegal additives, to cases of food companies caught engaging in false labeling, to the government’s failure to prevent the sale of products made with expired margarine, to the latest cases, these recurring safety issues not only cause public anxiety and endanger public health, but also greatly damage Taiwan’s culinary reputation.

Since taking office in May last year, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has said that the food safety issue is one of her administration’s top priorities.

Tsai has said that the government would focus on improving production management systems and set up an independent committee responsible for assessing food safety risks; she has also pledged more inspections at food markets and increased funding to improve food safety.

While the Environmental Protection Administration has indeed followed through on one of Tsai’s pledges by setting up an agency in December last year to supervise and regulate the use of chemical additives and toxic substances in food processing and other industries, many doubt whether the agency has been effective in protecting public health.

A growing number of people are questioning the government’s pledge and its ability to guarantee food safety, and are losing confidence, a survey released in May by the National Policy Foundation showed, in which 71.3 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with the Tsai government’s handling of food safety.

Every time food safety issues have occurred, the government has responded by holding special meetings and promising to severely punish those involved.

While quick actions and tough talk are certainly needed to assuage public concern, the government, if it is at all serious about addressing the issue, needs to do more to show its commitment.

Aside from amending laws and regulations to provide legal “teeth” and deter unscrupulous individuals and food manufacturers from exploiting loopholes in the food production process, the government urgently needs to inform and guide farmers and food manufacturers about safety and pollutants, and raise awareness among consumers.

“There is a saying in Taiwanese that you ‘are as majestic as an emperor when you eat,’ meaning that there is nothing more important than eating,” Tsai said during her presidential campaign.

“Making sure that food is safe for consumption is a fundamental responsibility of the government, which should address the issue more actively, so that people can be free of fear when they sit at the dining table,” she said.

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