FDA apologizes for food safety gaffe

‘UNFORGIVABLE’::At the weekly Cabinet meeting, Premier Jiang Yi-huah chastised the Ministry of Health and Welfare, adding the mistake must not be allowed to happen again

By Alison Hsiao  /  Staff reporter

Fri, Nov 01, 2013 - Page 1

Following Wednesday’s mistaken release of a list of companies to be ordered to pull their oil products off the shelves, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday apologized again for the blunder as it formally released a list of edible oil products that have been found to be substandard.

Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) called the initial release of the list an “unforgivable” mistake and has demanded that the personnel responsible be punished.

On Wednesday morning, the FDA released a list of 37 oil products that were apparently to be pulled from the shelves, including products from brand-name companies and imported oil.

Later that day, the agency amended the statement that had been sent to local health authorities, saying it was meant to say “conducting factory examinations” rather than “pulling off the shelves.”

At a press conference yesterday, FDA Acting Director-General Shiu Ming-neng (許銘能) again apologized for the gaffe and said that two executives at the FDA Northern Center for Regional Administration, the office responsible for the release, were to be held accountable for the mistake by being removed from their posts.

After days of guessing and probing from the media, the agency revealed the results of its examination of oil products yesterday.

It said 76 oil products are suspected of being substandard due to a mismatch between their fatty acid compositions and those on the official edible oil database, while 31 of them have been confirmed as being adulterated.

Fatty acid composition as a measurement is used globally to differentiate between different kinds of edible oil and to ensure the accuracy of food labeling.

“A total of 236 oil products were examined and 76 were found to not exactly conform to the fatty acid compositions indicated by our oil database. After two days of factory visits and inspections, and a meeting with professionals this morning, 31 of the 76 have been confirmed as being doctored,” Shiu said. “Seventeen of the 76 passed the scrutiny and 28 are in need of further investigation. Six of the 28 are imported products that will need certifications from the original manufacturers.”

Fifteen of the 31 adulterated oils are from Chang Chi Foodstuff Factory Co (大統長基) and Flavor Full Food Inc (富味鄉), while the other 16 were either labeled as pure camellia oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, flaxseed oil, sesame oil or black sesame oil, the FDA said, adding that the manufacturers would be fined up to NT$15 million (US$510,000).

Of the 11 companies that are responsible for the 16 oil products, nine have already provided the affidavit required by the health authority guaranteeing that the raw materials and additives on food labels are correctly stated.

“This would make them liable for fraud. However, since the inspections were conducted on oil products manufactured before they provided the affidavit, further investigation is required for confirmation,” FDA official Tsai Shu-chen (蔡淑貞) said.

Executive Yuan spokesperson Cheng Li-wun (鄭麗文) said Jiang, at yesterday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, chastised the Ministry of Health and Welfare for the error and said a similar mistake must not be allowed to happen again.

Government officials should be more careful when handling food safety cases, especially when the issue is at the center of public attention, to prevent erosion of confidence in the government’s ability to deal with the problem, Cheng quoted Jiang as saying.

Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan