The recent brouhaha over the discovery of maleic anhydride-modified industrial starch in Taiwanese-made food products has raised concern among the public and seriously damaged the nation’s food industry.
Yet while the toxicity of the additive in food has been widely debated, after reviewing scientific literature on the subject, I have yet to discover any direct evidence suggesting that this modified starch has any direct impact on the human body.
It is therefore impossible to assert that the long-term ingestion of this type of starch will harm kidney function or lead to the need for dialysis. Eating food containing this modified starch undeniably presents health concerns, but people who frequently partake of them need not panic.
All they have to do is maintain a balanced diet and a positive disposition, together with a disciplined life with regular exercise. This way they will be able to stay healthy.
How did this situation come about? It may have been caused by the lack of a supervisory body that can coordinate all the different government departments responsible for overseeing the nation’s food industry.
Under the current system, the extensive food production supply chain is controlled by several different administrative bodies, making it very difficult to efficiently resolve all the food safety issues that occur.
To address this matter, the legislature approved amendments to the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) on May 31 to enhance food safety risk management. Referencing the US’ Food Safety Modernization Act and the EU’s General Food Law Regulation 178/2002, the revisions place risk assessment at the core of food safety policy.
The amendments call for the establishment of a food safety risk assessment council that will communicate any food risks as part of its risk assessment procedures.
They also add clauses to a food-produce tracking system, changing the current agricultural-produce manufacture and sale-history data system.
Comprehensive information taken from the entire manufacturing supply chain for specific categories and for major manufacturers — for both food produce and processed products — is to be recorded using labels or tags to identify where different food produce came from. The system will be backed up by new enforcement clauses. This will allow food to be traced upstream, enabling more transparency in the whole food manufacturing process.
With the establishment of this new system, as soon as any food safety incident occurs, it will be possible to efficiently control the process linking the produce and the raw ingredients.
This, on top of the agricultural produce manufacture and sale history data system, will hopefully enable the government to be more in control of the whole process in future and the creation of a food safety management system better able to assure the public of the safety of the food they are eating.
Sheen Lee-yan is a professor in the Institute of Food Science and Technology at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Paul Cooper