Officials pledge to enforce ban on plasticizer in drinks

Staff Writer, with CNA

Wed, May 25, 2011 - Page 1

The Department of Health (DOH) pledged yesterday to crack down on soft drinks and dairy products containing a banned chemical and to pull all products that contain the substance off store shelves.

The department announced on Monday that it had detected the chemical DEHP in 16 samples of sports and soft drinks, including Sunkist lemon juice, Taiwan Yes energy boosting drink and a sports drink from Young Energy Source Co.

Kang Jaw-jou (康照洲), director-general of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said it was the first recorded case of a manufacturer adding a plasticizer to a legal clouding agent food additive.

The FDA will trace downstream businesses from the maker of the agent, Yu Shen Chemical Co (昱伸香料有限公司), Kang said, adding that the owner, Lai Chun-chieh (賴俊傑), had been detained.

“All problematic products will be pulled from store shelves,” he said.

Four convenience store chains and eight hypermarts agreed to stop selling several brand-name sports and soft drinks containing the banned chemical starting at midnight on Monday after the department made its initial announcement.

Consumers can return products containing DEHP to the stores for refunds, the Consumer Protection Commission (CPC) said.

Wu Cheng-hsueh (吳政學), a section chief at the commission, added that the CPC had asked local consumer protection officials to work with health officials and prosecutors to continue to trace the affected products.

Prosecutors said clouding agent formulated with palm oil may be used as a food additive. However, as the cost of palm oil is high, Lai is alleged to have been adding industrial plasticizer to his clouding agent, which he supplied to at least 45 soft drink and dairy manufacturers around Taiwan.

Lai, 57, the owner of the largest clouding agent supplier in the nation, has a high-capacity manufacturing plant in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, China, and supplies Chinese and Vietnamese manufacturers as well as local companies.

Control Yuan members Cheng Jen-hung (程仁宏) and Yang Mei-ling (楊美鈴) yesterday said they would open an investigation into the case to determine whether it was inadequate regulations or lax enforcement of regulations that led to the use of DEHP.

The government watchdog will hold responsible officials if any irregularities are found, Cheng said.

Yang praised the department for looking into the case on its own initiative, but said other questions remained.

“We need to find out how long the DOH has been aware of the problem, what it did before the case was made public [on Monday], how long it took the DOH to examine the additives and what it did to make sure that all the problematic drink products were pulled off the shelves,” Cheng said.

Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan