Sun, Jun 12, 2011 - Page 2 News List

Groups urge tainted food victims to seek payback

STEPS:The CPC said consumers wishing to file claims for compensation have several options, including contacting legal aid groups and the Ministry of Justice

Staff Writer, with CNA

Consumer protection groups said yesterday that people who may have suffered financial loss or health problems from plasticizer-tainted food should seek compensation.

According to statistics from the Consumer Protection Commission (CPC), since the May 23 announcement that plasticizers had been discovered in food and drink products, consumer protection officials around the country have as of yesterday handled 250 cases of complaints related to the largest food contamination scare ever to hit Taiwan.

The Taipei-based non-profit and independent Consumers’ Foundation has meanwhile received between 70 and 80 complaints.

However, in comparison with the scale of contamination, the number of complaints is relatively low, Consumers’ Foundation chairwoman Joann Su (蘇錦霞) said, urging consumers to defend their rights and benefits.

“The more complaints, the higher the possibility of winning compensation claims,” she said.

More than half — 131 — of the 250 complaints have involved demands for a refund, compensation for damages or payment for health checkups. There have also been 52 cases of complaints over the companies’ refund regulations being too strict, the commission said.

Two food additive producers in Taiwan have been found to have used plasticizers instead of the more expensive palm oil to cut costs in producing clouding agent.

The clouding agent was sold to many downstream companies, including major Taiwanese processed food producers. Clouding agents are used to make food ingredients mix better so as to enhance the final product’s consistency and appearance to appeal to consumers.

Health officials have said plasticizers can cause problems in children’s hormones and the development of their reproductive systems. It has also been shown to contribute to cancer in animals.

Since the story broke late last month, the government has ordered 24,855 types of food products to be taken off store shelves. They include hundreds of thousands of sports drinks and fruit juices.

Meanwhile, the commission reminded consumers that they need to have receipts or other proof of purchase or service details as evidence when filing compensation claims.

To file claims, consumers can go to the Ministry of Justice and non-profit legal aid organizations. They can also seek consultative assistance at the ministry, the Association for Victims Support and the Legal Aid Foundation, commission officials said.

Those facilities will compile all the complaints before delivering them to the commission, they said.

The commission will then represent consumers with legitimate complaints in requesting compensation from the concerned companies.

As for asking for a refund from food makers, consumers can file their complaints directly with the traders or producers, as well as seek help from consumers’ groups and local officials responsible for consumers’ rights protection.

If none of the groups are able to handle such complaints properly, consumers can turn to the Consumer Disputes Mediation Committee of the local government where they reside, the commission officials added.

Aside from legal assistance, the government has included in the regular free health examinations given to Taiwanese children aged seven and under checkups on possible plasticizer contamination in their endocrine and reproductive systems.

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