After the plasticizer scare in 2011, problems have now been found with edible oils.
There have been reports in the media that peanut, olive, grapeseed and sesame oil from Chang Chi Foodstuff Factory Co have been adulterated and that there is no chili in the company’s chili oil, which instead uses salad oil with added essence and coloring. Data for the 11 kinds of oil produced by the company show that with the exception of salad oil, there are problems with all of its products. More than 90 percent of the company’s oil products have been adulterated.
According to Changhua County’s Public Health Bureau, the bureau has in the past fined the company NT$100,000 (US$3,407) for each of 34 cases of adding copper complex chlorophyllin to its products. Despite this, the bureau has been unable to stop the company from continuing to sell adulterated oil products.
The bureau said it was clear that the reason the company dared to continue selling these products was that it felt that it could get away with it, since government controls were not strict and because the government was incapable of pursuing and fining these illicit profits.
Simply put, while Chang Chi has made NT$700 million from adulterated products over the past seven years, the government has fined the company a mere NT$3.4 million in the 34 copper complex chlorophyllin cases. Considering the size of the illicit profits, it is clear that the company has absorbed the government fines as part of the cost, and completely ignored the health of consumers so it could continue making large profits.
Article 15 of the Food Sanitation Act (食品衛生管理法) forbids the addition of substances or foreign materials that are toxic or harmful to human health, and Article 44 of the same law proscribes a fine of between NT$60,000 and NT$15 million for such offenses. Even if the highest fine allowed were issued, the company would probably still think that it was worth paying NT$15 million to make an average of NT$100 million in profits each year.
The authorities charged with controlling food safety have not relied on the Administrative Penalty Act (行政罰法) when pursuing the illicit profits of companies that have manipulated their products. This is tantamount to encouraging companies to chase illicit profits.
According to Article 18 of the Penalty Act, “In the case of imposition of a fine, consideration shall be given to such factors as the culpability of the act in breach of duty under administrative law, the impact resulted there from and the benefits gained from such an act. Additionally, the financial ability of the person penalized may also be taken into account. If the gained benefit referred to in the preceding paragraph exceeds the maximum statutory amount of fine, the fine may be increased to the extent appropriate within the scope of the benefit gained, regardless of the statutory limitation of maximum fine.”
In other words, in addition to the maximum NT$15 million allowed in the Sanitation Act, the government could also issue a fine on illicit profits of NT$685 million as allowed by the Penalty Act.
No company wants to operate at a loss. A much greater fine would be necessary to eliminate the feeling among companies that “it’s still worth it despite the fines,” and increasing the penalty would effectively avoid a situation in which the nation’s health is jeopardized by adulterated food products.
Huang Di-ying is a lawyer and a board member of the Taipei Bar Association’s Committee for Human Rights.
Translated by Perry Svensson