The Executive Yuan yesterday vowed to ramp up efforts to ensure food safety and rebuild the reputation of Taiwanese products in overseas markets.
Recent discoveries of various food items containing a banned industrial starch have stoked public concern about food safety. On the instructions of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), the Executive Yuan called an international press conference yesterday evening to alleviate concerns over the use of maleic anhydride-modified starch in food products.
The press conference was held following an inter-agency meeting chaired by Vice Premier Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) to coordinate efforts among government agencies to assure consumers at home and abroad of the safety of Taiwanese food products.
Mao said the government is duty-bound to ensure the safety of Taiwan’s food products and exports and has attached a high priority to the issue.
Combining the efforts of several Cabinet agencies, the Council of Labor Affairs has since 2009 maintained a database of chemical raw materials, which contains more than 90 percent of the materials available, or 79,000, Mao said.
The establishment of the database will help prevent the use of illegal chemical additives in food products, he added.
Meanwhile, Department of Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達) urged the legislature to approve an amendment to the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) to strengthen penalties for violations of the Act as a deterrent.
“The penalties under the current act are not severe enough,” Chiu said.
Chiu added that health authorities nationwide will finish inspections of related products on shelves within three days and destroy contaminated products within a week, while a second round of inspections is to begin on Saturday.
Manufacturers are required to present safety certificates immediately, he said.
Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs Bill Chow (卓士昭) said his ministry would present a list of products containing the banned additives to the nation’s overseas missions as soon as possible to avoid a possible across-the-board ban being imposed on food materials and food products imported from Taiwan.
In response to media inquiries, Chiu said he would describe maleic anhydride-modified industrial starch in food as an “illegal additive,” rather than “toxic,” as widely used in the media.
Considering the amounts of maleic anhydride-modified industrial starch used, if an individual does not consume too much of the affected products in a day, they are not exposed to any immediate danger, Food and Drug Administration Director-General Kang Jaw-jou (康照洲) said.
Earlier yesterday, Ma instructed the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus to speed up the passage of an amendment to the Act Governing Food Sanitation to stiffen penalties for manufacturers.
Ma, in presiding over the KMT’s Central Standing Committee meeting, raised the issue before the meeting began and urged the Department of Health and other government bodies to strengthen inspections, eliminate illegal food products and punish illegal manufacturers to build a safe food environment.
“Our priority is to put consumers’ minds at ease and stop public panic. We should face the issue and resolve the problem with honesty. I believe the food industry can revive its reputation soon,” said Ma, who doubles as KMT chairman.
Ma also asked the Ministry of Economic Affairs to help vendors cooperate with government measures, because they are also victims of the incident.