Last week, several food security issues surfaced following the discovery of maleic anhydride in food products containing starch, excessive levels of 3-monochloropropanediol (3-MPCD) in soy sauce at night markets and the use of expired raw materials in cream puffs made by I-Mei Foods Co.
Other than wondering what is safe to eat, consumers should treat these discoveries as a wake-up call and pay attention to how the companies involved respond to the issues and whether food regulations are being enforced.
The suppliers of the raw materials for the tainted starch are not big or well-known companies, and some company owners have defended themselves by saying that they did not have enough information and had no way of finding out what raw materials were used.
The inferior soy sauce has mainly appeared at night markets, and manufacturers seem to think that there is no need to apologize to consumers.
I-Mei’s official statements continue to insist that there is no reason to question the quality of its raw materials and that the whole issue was the result of a manager on the production line overlooking the expiry date.
A well-known company that stresses that “the cake-making business is a conscientious business for honest people” is trying to play down a problem that has the potential to seriously damage its brand and reputation.
As for the food products containing tainted starch, chain stores have pulled the affected products from the shelves, but have not apologized to consumers or broached the subject of compensation.
There have been media reports that managers on I-Mei’s production lines have said that they knew full well that the raw materials were past their expiry date, but senior management refuses to admit to any wrongdoing. How can this be acceptable to the consumers who have supported I-Mei for so long?
The company may have said that any questionable products can be returned, but there is also the question of all those cream puffs that have already been consumed. How should those be returned?
If the company really believes it is a “conscientious business,” it should not only donate NT$15 million (US$500,000) to consumer-related public interest groups, it should also return the income from all 1.44 million boxes sold. Food companies and distributors that in the past have used plasticizing agents or toxic starch should also demonstrate their sincerity in protecting the interests of consumers.
The Food and Drug Administration has made it clear that using expired raw materials is a criminal offense, so investigators and prosecutors should move quickly to press charges against the concerned individuals, the judiciary should sentence anyone who is found guilty according to the full extent of the law and the legislature should amend applicable laws and increase the penalties for manufacturing illegal additives, using expired materials and changing manufacturing dates.
Any official who does not live up to public expectations should step down on their own initiative.
As food security issues keep recurring, consumers can no longer wait for manufacturers to show good conscience or for the authorities to take action. They should prepare to take the most effective action: stop buying and eating the products concerned and punish the manufacturers in the harshest way possible — by forcing them off the market. No company that ignores the interests of consumers should be given a second chance.
Lei Li-fen is secretary-general of the Consumers’ Foundation.
Translated by Perry Svensson