Sun, Oct 14, 2018 - Page 6 News List

EDITORIAL: Big fines safeguard health and sales

Yet another case of food safety violations was revealed on Tuesday and some are questioning whether the fines and regulations are adequate deterrents.

Eggs from Yi Jin King Co (義進金), one of the nation’s largest suppliers, were recalled after inspections allegedly uncovered excessive levels of nicarbazin — used to retard parasite reproduction — and fraudulent labeling. Prosecutors said that expired eggs were repackaged with new expiration dates, or mixed with non-expired eggs.

After inspections in April, egg supplier Yuanshan (元山蛋品) was found to have mixed fresh and expired eggs in liquid egg products. Yuanshan and other companies that failed inspections were fined NT$840,000 (US$27,176).

In December last year, egg supplier CJ-Taian Co (萇記泰安) was also found to have mixed fresh and expired eggs in liquid egg products. Suppliers are clearly willing to take the risk, knowing that they face only a small fine if caught.

Compare this with a 2015 incident in the US in which supplier Quality Egg was instructed to pay US$6.8 million after contaminated eggs from its Iowa facilities infected 56,000 people with salmonella. Company executive Jack DeCoster and his son were sentenced to three months in prison and each fined US$100,000.

Taiwanese courts send a confusing message by handling breaches of food regulations with different degrees of severity.

In 2015, Wei Ying-chun (魏應充), the former chairman of Ting Hsin Oil and Fat Industrial Co (頂新製油實業), was sentenced to two years in prison for his role in the company’s use of tainted oil in food products.

The two years — a reduced sentence granted on appeal by the Intellectual Property Court — was for tampering with food labels, the court said.

Why tampering with labels on egg products is treated so much less harshly than tampering with labels on oil products could be questioned, particularly as nobody came forward with claims of health issues caused by the oil products.

Eggs can become contaminated in a number of lethal ways, including with salmonella or listeria — two serious bacterial infections that can cause death in infants, those who are immunosuppressed and elderly people. Listeria infections can also lead to miscarriages, according to the WHO.

As the average Taiwanese consumes 322 eggs per year, the potential for contracting such an infection is high, especially given that egg production facilities are cramped and often fail inspections due to unsanitary conditions.

Exported food products that contain eggs should also be scrutinized. Due to the Ting Hsin oil scandal, Hong Kong authorities last year became stricter about the import of food products from Taiwan, particularly those containing a type of lard produced by Kaohsiung-based Chang Guann Co (強冠企業), which was found to contain recycled kitchen oil.

At the time, Hong Kong Food and Health Bureau Secretary Ko Wing-man (高永文) said that the territory would check Taiwan-made foods — such as pineapple buns from Maxim’s Cakes (美心西餅) — for questionable shortening.

Egg products made in Taiwan, such as salted eggs, preserved eggs (also known as “century eggs”), mooncakes and others, are exported around the world. A major food scandal involving the safety of Taiwanese eggs could harm the nation’s reputation and hamper exports, similar to what happened last year to the Netherlands when eggs from Dutch poultry farms were found to contain traces of the insecticide fipronil.

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