The Ministry of Health and Welfare yesterday rebuffed accusations that it was aware that cooking oil producer Chang Chi Foodstuff Factory Co’s (大統長基) olive oil contained illegal additives or other mixtures as early as the end of last year, but delayed informing the public.
At a meeting of the legislature’s Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee yesterday, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chao Tien-lin (趙天麟) questioned the ministry on why it had not previously reported the oil, after it was exposed by the media that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had commissioned a research unit to investigate the blended oil, aiming to come up with an effective testing method to verify the blending ratio, and found that Chang Chi olive oil contained illegal additives or other mixtures.
Ministry of Health and Welfare Vice Minister Hsu Ming-neng (許銘能) said that the research results had not shown any problems with Chang-chi’s oil, and “four follow-up inspections [following a tip-off to the authorities at the end of last year] were not able to confirm that the olive oil contained illegal additives or other mixtures.”
“That’s why this time we have requested assistance from the prosecution unit to actually get hold of company’s formulation, as testing alone cannot confirm oil adulteration,” Hsu said.
An FDA official added that Chang-chi’s olive oil was manufactured and doctored in a way that made it identical to pure olive oil in its fatty acid composition, which is currently used as an indicator for differentiating oils.
Changhua County’s health authority disclosed that a large amount of low-cost cottonseed oil, which is toxic if left unrefined, was imported by Chang chi and added to its olive oil.
Chao pressed the administration to reveal the name of the other major importer, who the administration said imported 60 percent of the total cottonseed oil imported each year (Chang Chi had the remaining 40 percent).
FDA officials at first did not make the company’s name public, but eventually said that it was Flavor Full Foods (富味鄉).
However, it added that the cottonseed oil imported by the company was refined and processed to be exported to other countries and none was used in products sold in Taiwan.
Flavor Full made an announcement on its Web site after its name was exposed, confirming what the FDA had said and denying that the company has been selling it in Taiwan.
The company held a press conference later in the day reiterating that it has not sold cottonseed oil-containing products in the nation and all of its products on the market — which are mainly sesame oil-based — are free of cottonseed oil.
Responding to the concern that cottonseed oil is harmful to humans, the administration said that refined cottonseed oil can be used for cooking.
It cited data from the US Department of Agriculture, which said that refined cottonseed oil has a 5 percent to 6 percent share of the US’ edible oil market, 56 percent of which is for cooking and making salad, 36 percent for baking and frying and 8 percent for margarine and other uses.
Unrefined cottonseed oil contains a toxic substance known as gossypol, and its pure form can have a negative impact on human male fertility, the administration said, adding that the government has banned unrefined cottonseed from being used as edible oil since 1979.
Lawmakers asked the ministry to consider banning oil products containing cottonseed oil without labeling it from market shelves.