The Control Yuan on Thursday censured three government agencies for poor supervision of the use of plasticizers in the country, which it said resulted in a food scare in May and NT$11.4 billion in losses for the domestic food industry.
The government watchdog censured the Executive Yuan, the Department of Health (DOH) and the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) and asked the three to investigate officials accused of dereliction of duty.
It also asked the health department to reward Food and Drug Administration inspector Yang Ming-yu (楊明玉), who discovered the banned plasticizer di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP, in bottled beverages and dairy products, thus exposing the biggest food safety crisis in the country.
The three agencies must make improvements in the areas cited in the investigation report, the Control Yuan said, otherwise it would invoke its interrogation rights and impeach the premier — the highest ranking official in the executive branch.
Control Yuan member Cheng Jen-hung (程仁宏) said the investigation found that the health department had ignored public calls for stronger government supervision of food additives and failed to take specific action on the matter.
Although the DOH had been censured several times over its handling of food safety issues, the Cabinet still did not institute proper supervision of the health department, which led to staff and budget shortages, and lax regulations at the DOH, Cheng said at a press conference.
He also displayed a permit for making clouding agents, issued by the DOH in 1978 to Pin Han Perfumery Co, the supplier that was found to have been adding plasticizers to clouding agents.
Since 1978, the department had extended the permit several times based on written reports instead of on-the-spot inspections, Cheng said.
The permit was like an official endorsement that may have led food additive buyers to believe the clouding agents were safe for use, he said.
The plasticizers involved are listed, under EPA regulations, as fourth category toxic substances, and there are about 5,235 registered factories in the country making such substances, he said.
However, there are only three to four employees in a unit with an annual budget of NT$11 million overseeing such substances, which clearly indicates a need for better supervision, he said.
The discovery of plasticizer-tainted products in many processed foods, including sports drinks, juices, jams and bubble tea, forced a widespread recall of products earlier this year. Consumer confidence in Taiwan was heavily affected and the country’s international reputation took a hit.
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