Thu, Jul 05, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Subpar rice included in aid to Haiti

`UNFIT FOR ANIMALS' Haitian officials complained to the foreign ministry about the shipment and a Yunlin County rice processing plant is under investigation

By Angelica Oung  /  STAFF REPORTER

Part of a food aid shipment to Haiti in February contained rice "unfit even for animal consumption," a Council of Agriculture official said yesterday.

The problem came to light when Haitian officials complained about the subpar rice to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which in turn informed the council on May 24, said Tsao Shao-hwei (曹紹徽), an Agricultural and Food Agency (AFA) official.

Tsao said the case has been turned over to the police, who suspect malfeasance on the part of factory owners.

Council officials said the poor rice had been traced to a processing plant in Yunlin County.

The ten 50kg bags that were found to contain poor-quality rice in the 420-tonne shipment were from the Chun-ku Rice Processing Plant.

The plant said that substandard rice had been mixed with good rice by mistake because its foreign laborers had misunderstood instructions that were not given in their mother tongue.

Tsao voiced skepticism at that explanation.

"The rice the factory attempted to pass off as acceptable quality is so poor that it was immediately obvious upon visual inspection -- the rice had turned yellow and black," Tsao told reporters yesterday. "It would be hard for the factory to pass this off as a mistake."

High-quality unprocessed rice was delivered by the AFA to the plant to process before being shipped to Haiti.

"We strongly suspect they sold some of the good rice, substituted poor-quality rice for part of the shipment and pocketed the profit," Tsao said.

"Our contract with the plant ended on June 5. The results of the police investigation will decide whether plant officials will be found criminally culpable," he said.

Tsao said that Taiwan first started providing rice as foreign aid in 2002. The amount of rice donated varies from year to year depending on the level of demand from famine-stricken countries and has ranged from 20,000 tonnes to more than 60,000 tonnes per year.

Ministry spokeswoman Phoebe Yeh (葉非比) said yesterday that the aid program for Haiti began in February and would run until next January.

"We believe that this is an isolated case ... but we will pay attention to prevent it from happening again," she said.

Additional reporting by Jewel Huang

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