Stricter measures will be taken to prevent contaminated food imports from entering the domestic market, a Consumer Protection Commission official said on Friday.
The measures were discussed at an interministerial meeting on Thursday on ways to avert a repeat of incidents such as the sale, earlier this month, of contaminated coconuts from Thailand before safety tests had been completed, said Liu Ching-fang (劉清芳), a section chief at the commission.
Like most other countries, Taiwan allows importers of fresh farm produce and fishery products to take delivery of the goods before food safety examinations are completed to preserve freshness.
But they are required to sign a note promising not to market their products until after the items are certified contaminant-free.
During the meeting, officials from the Department of Health (DOH), the Bureau of Standards, Metrology and Inspection (BSMI), the Directorate General of Customs and local consumer protection offices discussed feasible steps to improve the existing “delivery before examination” mechanism, Liu said.
“It was decided that the DOH should craft a more effective mechanism to track the flow of imported food items,” she said.
From now on, Liu said, the department will be required to notify city and county health bureaus of any produce that fails initial safety tests and that is awaiting the results of conclusive tests.
“That will allow local governments to better prepare themselves to take the necessary measures to block the marketing of produce suspected of containing banned substances,” she said.
Liu said the department would study the feasibility of imposing fines for importers who break their promise to hold the imported items from the market until conclusive test results are available.
Under existing food hygiene management regulations, violators are subject to a fine of NT$40,000 to NT$200,000 (US$1,300-US$6,500).
“The DOH will also evaluate the possibility of bringing criminal charges against serious violators,” Liu said.
As summer is the peak season for coconut consumption, Liu said the department and the BSMI would increase spot checks to prevent contaminated coconuts from being introduced into the local market.
Earlier this month, two shipments of coconuts from Thailand were found to contain residue of the banned fungicide carbendazim.
Only a portion of the coconuts were recalled and destroyed. Although the residue was minimal, regulations ban the sale of any produce containing such a substance.
Carbendazim is used to control a broad range of diseases in crops, fruits and vegetables. Ingestion of the chemical by humans is believed to affect hormonal functions.