Cabinet set to form inter-ministry food safety unit

ADULTERATED OIL::The FDA said that Chang Chi oil samples it tested last year had been used only to try a new testing method. The firm’s oil was being used in meals at 123 schools

By Alison Hsiao  /  Staff reporter, with CNA

Wed, Oct 23, 2013 - Page 1

The Cabinet will establish an inter-ministerial unit to handle the issues of mislabeled and unsafe food products, Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said yesterday, amid a brewing controversy over the safety of cooking oils.

The unit will be similar to the one that deals with fake and banned drugs and will welcome tips from whistle-blowers, Jiang said before attending a plenary session of the legislature.

Violators of the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) are subject to fines, the premier said, citing the example of Chang Chi Foodstuff Factory Co (大統長基), which was fined NT$28.6 million (US$974,000) earlier this month, after authorities found that its oil products were adulterated.

Food safety issues should not be tackled by the Ministry of Health and Welfare alone, Jiang said, adding that the quality control system needs to be improved.

All food products should be subject to lab tests before being allowed on the market, the premier said. Currently, quality control is left to the producers, with random checks carried out by the government, he said.

On the Chang Chi matter, Jiang told lawmakers during the plenary session that the health ministry has recalled the company’s products, and vendors that fail to comply within the stipulated one-week period will be fined.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday reiterated that the research project it commissioned that was rumored to have found Chang Chi’s oil was adulterated as early as last year was only meant to develop a testing method to determine the kinds of oils in blended oils sold on the market.

“During the project execution, a few samples taken from the market were tested to see how the new testing method worked,” FDA Deputy Director-General Wu Shiow-ing (吳秀英) said. “The effectiveness of the method had not been confirmed.”

“The edible oil testing method we employ now, which is also the main method used around the globe, is the examination of fatty acid composition. However, as the fatty acid compositions of edible vegetable oils could vary according to their source, place of origin, extraction method and refining and processing process, confirmation of regulation violations would be possible only when factory and formula inspections have also been carried out,” Wu said.

As to concerns about how the bulk of raw cottonseed oil, which is toxic if unrefined, imported by Chang Chi and Flavor Full Foods (富味鄉) has been used, FDA official Tseng Su-hsiang (曾素香) said the agency is now testing samples collected from 76 edible oil manufacturing and packaging factories (out of the total 163 to be inspected), including the cottonseed oil refined by the two companies.

“By testing whether their refined cottonseed oil is free of problematic substances, we can determine whether their cottonseed oil-containing oil products are [potentially harmful to human health],” she added.

FDA food division chief Tsai Shu-chen (蔡淑貞) said that refined cottonseed oil is widely used as edible oil across the world, and since little gossypol, the toxic substance in raw cottonseed oil, remains after refinement, the international food standards-setting body, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, has not set a maximum residue level for it.

“Only China, where some people consumed raw cottonseed oil during the 1930s and were found to have compromised fertility, has set a maximum residue limit, at 0.02 percent,” Tsai said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education issued a statement yesterday, saying it had determined by means of a survey that Chang Chi’s products were being used in meals at 123 public schools in 11 counties.

All of the schools have been instructed to stop using the products, the ministry said.