Health authorities are mulling legal amendments that would toughen up punishments for companies that use harmful food additives, in response to lawmakers’ concerns that current penalties are too light.
The proposal came in the wake of a food scare prompted by the discovery of traces of the toxic chemical Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP, in a legal emulsifier that is commonly used in fruit jelly, yogurt powder mixes, juices and other drinks. It was discovered that the chemical had been introduced either by Yu Shen Chemical Co, or by intermediaries supplied by the company.
The Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) stipulates that manufacturers could be fined between NT$180,000 and NT$900,000 and sentenced to three years in prison.
Department of Health (DOH) Deputy Minister Hsiao Mei-ling (蕭美玲) yesterday said the ministry was considering strengthening the punishment.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Director-General Kang Jaw-jou (康照洲) added that before the act was actually amended, manufacturers could still be fined a sizable amount should the DOH choose to exert its administrative discretion to decide a penalty rather than invoking the Act Governing Food Sanitation.
“If the fine is measured based on the number of downstream businesses affected, it [a guilty manufacturer] could be fined a large amount of money,” Kang said.
The government, meanwhile, has ordered producers that used a clouding agent provided by Yu Shen Chemical Co to remove their products from sale and have them tested for DEHP.
“Manufacturers must shoulder the social responsibility of taking the initiative in discovering if their food products have been contaminated with DEHP,” Government Information Office Minister Philip Yang (楊永明) yesterday quoted Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) as saying at a news conference following the weekly Cabinet meeting, where the issue was discussed.
To regain public confidence in food security, authorities and food manufacturers have to disclose all related information in a transparent way, said Wu, who also ordered the FDA to make public any suspicious food products before test results are available.
Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) said the city had started a city-wide inspection on all food and drink products after receiving notification on Tuesday.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MO YAN-CHIH