Mon, Nov 25, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Cashing in on adulterated oil

In the wake of Taiwan’s cooking oil scandal, manufacturers are finding buyers for their recalled products

By Enru Lin  /  Staff reporter

“The NT$18 per kg is theirs,” said a government official surnamed Lin who declined to give his full name. “Of the six products, not a single one is toxic. Ninety-nine percent of people think that it’s toxic.”

The products were labeled as 100 percent pure olive oil, when they had been adulterated with canola oil, a legal ingredient, Lin said.

As a result, Formosa Oilseed has been fined NT$12 million for six violations of adulteration and false labeling, plus NT$3 million for initially evading government examination and providing false information, for a total of NT$15 million.

“They haven’t started paying, but will eventually start doing so in installments,” Lin said.

BACK IN BUSINESS

At Flavor Full’s main plant in Changhua, the refinery is getting ready to reprocess the unopened oil coming back from stores across Taiwan. The company has been fined NT$480 million for adulterating its product.

All unopened products will be reprocessed and then exported, said Betty Wang (王怡惠) of Flavor Full’s production planning department.

Since 2011, the sesame-oil manufacturer has run a side business of refining cottonseed oil and shipping it overseas to about 20 countries including Singapore. It’s a legal business: refined cottonseed oil is technically free of the toxin gossypol. But the company is now working against a blighted record of lying and evasion.

Prior to the escalating oil scandal, Flavor Full had officially maintained that all products containing cottonseed oil were sold exclusively to other countries. On Oct. 21, company president Chen Wen-nan (陳文南) had reiterated that all of Flavor Full’s cooking oil products containing cottonseed oil were for export only. During questioning two days later, Chen admitted to prosecutors that products containing cottonseed oil were on shelves in Taiwan.

On Nov. 14, Flavor Full’s Wang stressed to the Taipei Times the company is committed to keeping cottonseed oil from Taiwan shelves.

“All refining of [recalled] products containing cottonseed oil will be handled on a single production line to prevent traces from entering other oil products,” Wang stated.

“The reprocessed product will be exported. The export volume, contracts, shipping documents, export declarations and other relevant information will be provided to the New Taipei City public health department for reference,” Wang said.

WEAK OVERSIGHT

But in an unsettling echo of the past, neither the central nor local government is tracking Flavor Full’s refining process or oil sale.

At the central government’s FDA, Chiang stressed that execution of the law is at local discretion.

However, at the New Taipei City public health department, food safety division chief Lin Kuan-zhen (林冠蓁) said the resale of recalled oil to other countries is a “private commercial transaction” that’s not within government purview.

“We will check the numbers on their export report when they tell us they are shipping,” she said. “[But] it’s not for us to set a timeline or to make requirements on who the buyers are,” Lin said. “That’s really not our concern. Our main concern is getting the product off the shelves.”

Likewise, Taipei’s public health department said it has been handling Wei Chuan’s adulterated oil case and has focused efforts on pulling product. Government officials have not made requirements, including a deadline, for oil disposal.

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