President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday instructed government agencies to do more to ensure food safety after a toxic chemical was found in food and beverages, and promised to hand down heavy punishments to responsible suppliers to defend the nation’s international reputation.
“The president asked the Cabinet and Department of Health [DOH] to trace products that could be contaminated, and give consumers correct, first-hand information to ensure food safety,” Presidential Office spokesman Fang Chiang Tai-chi (范姜泰基) said yesterday.
An extensive inspection on food and beverages that may have been contaminated with Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP, a plasticizer, began this week after the DOH announced on Monday that the chemical had been found in an emulsifier used in fruit jellies, yogurt powder mixes, juices, soft drinks and other beverages.
Fang Chiang said Ma had instructed Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) to get to the root of the problem and hold manufacturers accountable.
“The incident has not only caused great public concern, but will also affect the economy and have a negative impact on Taiwan’s international reputation,” he said.
The DOH on Wednesday informed the WHO of its recent discovery of the chemical in some bottled drinks.
The DOH has also informed health authorities in China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, the Philippines and the US of the incident, since the DEHP-tainted drinks and food additives may also have been exported to those areas, Food and Drug Administration Director-General Kang Jaw-jou (康照洲) said.
“We have informed the International Food Safety Authorities Network [INFOSAN] of the discovery of DEHP in a legal emulsifier produced by a local food manufacturer,” Kang said.
INFOSAN is one of the WHO’s six major communications mechanisms and technical conferences.
Kang said Yu Shen Chemical Co, the largest emulsifier supplier in Taiwan, illegally added the banned chemical DEHP to an emulsifier as a substitute for more expensive palm oil.
Yu Shen Chemical owner Lai Chun-chieh (賴俊傑) has been detained by prosecutors pending further investigation.
Lai told prosecutors that his company operated production lines on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, which prompted the DOH to inform China twice since Monday of the incident, in accordance with a bilateral food safety agreement, Kang said.
“We have not yet received any response from Chinese authorities,” Kang said.
DOH investigations showed that Young Energy Source Co has exported two flavors of its brand-name sports drinks tainted with DEHP to Hong Kong and that DEHP-contaminated emulsifier and food ingredients had been shipped to the Philippines and the US.