The illegal use of industrial starch and soy sauce products containing an excessive amount of organic chemical compounds (3-MCPD and 4-MEI) as food additives were among the issues raised yesterday at the legislature’s plenary session, during which lawmakers accused the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of “incompetence” and called for stricter regulations to curb future food safety offenses.
Maleic anhydride-modified industrial starch, which was found to have been used in several products such tapiocas, flat rice noodles and oden (關東煮) to enhance the chewiness, is not among the 21 kinds of modified food starch that have been approved by the authority, Department of Health Minister Deputy Lin Tzou-yien (林奏延) said.
“As of Friday last week, 33.4 tons [31.1 tonnes] of contaminated starch products and raw materials have been confiscated,” Lin said, adding that maleic acid has low acute toxicity levels, does not pose risks to reproduction and is not carcinogenic.
When asked about soy sauce products containing the carcinogens 3-MCPD and 4-MEI, Lin said that authorities had set a regulatory limit of 0.4 mg/kg for 3-MCPD in soy sauce, which is in line with the Codex [Alimentaries Commission] standard and is stricter than the guidelines in the US.
Only excessive intake would be harmful to health, Lin added.
“We already announced last year that a regulatory limit for 4-MEI in caramel color would soon be set according to the Codex and other developed countries,” Lin said, adding that the revision of the limit would also serve to warn potential offenders.
However, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Liu Chien-kuo (劉建國) criticized the department, saying it had been reacting to these food scandals rather than preventing them, and slammed its perceived endorsement of maleic acid when the FDA explicitly prohibits the use of industrial starch in food.
“In contrast to what the FDA believes, experts have said that the chemical might cause damage to the renal tubules. Many Taiwanese are diagnosed with renal glycosuria, or having glucose in urine without hyperglycemia, which according to the experts indicates that renal tubules are functioning abnormally,” Liu said.
DPP Legislator Chao Tien-lin (趙天麟) also criticized the FDA for incompetence, revealing that although the agency only discovered a small number of offending producers, he had been informed by an anonymous source about an upstream chemical manufacturers and distributors of maleic anhydride.