The Ministry of Health and Welfare yesterday proposed increasing the maximum penalties for firms who adulterate food products with illicit substances or falsely advertise them, amid a snowballing controversy over adulterated edible oils.
In a report to the legislative plenary session, Minister of Health and Welfare Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達) said he plans to strengthen the punitive measures by amending the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) to counteract illegal acts in the manufacturing and advertising of food products.
“The aim is to raise the penalty for those who contravene Article 15 of the act — which states that people who adulterate or counterfeit food products, or undertake activities that cause damage to public health will be subject to a fine — from the current maximum of NT$15 million to NT$50 million [US$510,000 to US$1.7 million],” Chiu said.
“Under the proposal, the maximum fine for false, exaggerated or misleading food advertising and violations of regulations restricting the advertising for special dietary foods [Article 28 of the act] would also be raised from NT$200,000 to NT$4 million,” he said.
The changes would also see those who adulterate, counterfeit or illicitly add unapproved substances to food products face a stricter penalty of up to five years in prison, up from the current three-year maximum sentence, Chiu said.
Another revision to be discussed by the health authority is a change to the labeling threshold for the amount of genetically modified (GM) raw materials contained in food products.
“We have held conferences to discuss the potential change and are intending to tighten the threshold from the present 5 percent to 0.9 percent, according to experts’ recommendations,” the minister said.
The change would require food products to bear labels indicating the inclusion of GM materials if such content comprises more than 0.9 percent of the product.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus said it has proposed an amendment to the act aimed at ensuring food safety.
DPP Legislator Wu Ping-jui (吳秉叡) told a press conference that the initiative emphasizes five main points. Among these are the formation of an risk evaluation committee that would be independent, but fall under the Executive Yuan; a periodic food inspection system that would integrate efforts from the central and local governments; and a food safety fund.
Given what it said was the increasing lack of self-discipline among food manufacturers, the party also proposed levying heavier punishments against food regulation violators that would see them face up to five years in jail and a maximum fine of NT$40 million, Wu said.
Under the DPP’s proposal, whistle-blowers who report violations in food manufacturing — who would most likely be employed by the offenders or their competitors — would be given immunity from judicial punishment, the lawmaker added.
Consumers have experienced great diffuclty in seeking compensation from offending food manufacturers in the past because the law demands that victims provide evidence of how the product endangered their health, Wu said.
Given this, the party’s amendment would require manufacturers to submit certificates to prove the safety of their products, he added.
According to the DPP’s proposal, fines for food safety violators would be remitted to the proposed food safety fund instead of the Treasury so the money could be used as compensation for consumers or to finance their class-action lawsuitss, Wu said.