Tue, Sep 23, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Cabinet grilled over melamine scandal

ANGRY LEGISLATORS DPP lawmakers called for heads to roll, accusing the government of reacting too slowly after learning that stores were selling tainted products

By Shelley Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators yesterday grilled Health Minister Lin Fang-yue (林芳郁) and Vice Premier Paul Chiu (邱正雄) over the government’s response to the melamine scandal, panning the government for not pulling tainted products from store shelves.

At a meeting of the legislature’s Health, Environment and Labor Committee yesterday, DPP caucus whip William Lai (賴清德) asked Lin whether Maxwell instant coffee, the brand served to legislative staff, contained melamine.

Lin responded by saying: “The toxicity is limited if you don’t drink it very often.”

Lai pressed on, saying the instant coffee was imported from China, to which Lin replied that although the Department of Health had banned milk powder, dairy products and products containing plant protein from China, it would not recall products that had already entered the country.

“Your logic is all wrong,” Lai said, calling for all unsafe products to be recalled.

After taking the podium, DPP Legislator Chen Ying (陳瑩) offered Chiu, who doubles as chairman of the Consumer Protection Commission (CPC), and Lin each a cup of Maxwell coffee.

The two hesitated to take the cups, at which point Chen asked: “Didn’t you say as long as you drink lots of water, you can clear your body of melamine?”

In June, a Taiwanese company imported 1,000 25kg bags of Chinese milk powder tainted with the industrial chemical and sold them to food processing factories to be used in cakes, beverages and calcium tablets.

On Sunday, the concerns over tainted products spread as King Car Industrial Co (金車) recalled eight of its products containing non-dairy creamer from China, all of which tested positive for melamine.

Another six companies that use non-dairy creamer from China sent their products to be tested for melamine yesterday.

The health department also said it had tested 18 locally produced brands of fresh milk and found no melamine.

At the meeting yesterday, Chen mocked Lin, bowing her head in prayer as a reference to a comment Lin made in June during the enterovirus outbreak, when he said he would rely on prayer if the outbreak persisted.

Accusing health officials and the CPC of responding too slowly after learning that tainted products were being sold in Taiwan, Chen “prayed” that God give these officials “capacity, determination and a sense of shame and responsibility.”

Asked by Chen whether any officials should step down to take responsibility, Chiu said the officials had done everything they should to deal with the tainted products.

In response to companies that have said the ban on select imports from China would hurt their business, Lin asked them to “withstand this temporary pain to grow in the long run.”

Noting that Japanese agriculture minister Seiichi Ota had resigned on Friday over his ministry’s handling of imported rice tainted with mold and pesticide, DPP Legislator Huang Sue-ying (黃淑英) asked who should resign over the milk scandal.

“We didn’t do anything wrong,” Chiu replied. “All this time health officials have worked hard ... There’s no need to kill a person every time [a problem arises].”

At a separate setting yesterday, Control Yuan member Cheng Jen-hung (程仁宏) said he would start a probe this week to determine whether there were any irregularities in the government’s handling of the scandal.

Cheng said he planned to question officials at the health department, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Council of Agriculture to determine whether information was withheld from the public about the contamination or whether there had been any failings in cross-strait communication on food safety.

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