A failing public health system and government inaction — rather than lawbreaking food manufacturers — lie at the heart of the nation’s food safety problem, the Taiwan Association for Promoting Public Health said yesterday.
Saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, the association urged the government to pour more resources into preventive healthcare departments, which has been rendered ineffective because of a lack of financial support and manpower.
“About 90 percent of the annual NT$900 billion [US$30 billion] in health expenditure is spent on healthcare, while the public health system’s preventive healthcare departments get less than 5 percent,” association chairperson Chen Mei-hsia (陳美霞) said.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only accounted for 3.1 percent of the Department of Health’s (DOH) total expenditure in 2011, and this figure further dropped to 2.7 percent last year, DOH annual reports showed.
Data compiled by the association also showed that FDA employees accounted for only 10.1 percent of the DOH’s entire work force, while those involved in healthcare services, such as the National Health Insurance Program, made up 62 percent.
“On average, one FDA official serves about 50,000 people in Taiwan,” compared with one per 36,000 people in South Korea, 23,000 in the US and 20,000 in the UK, Chen said.
Moreover, only about a third, or 34.6 percent, of the FDA’s total budget of NT$2.2 billion in 2011 was used for monitoring food safety and sanitation, the group said.
“The government spends a minuscule NT$34 per citizen on food safety each year, compared with Japan’s NT$45, the UK’s NT$158, the US’ NT$160 and Hong Kong’s NT$458,” Chen said, adding that the figure in Taiwan “is only about 7 percent of what Hong Kong authorities are willing to spend.”
Former minister of health Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良), who was also present at the press conference, said that the comparison with Hong Kong dwarfs Taiwan’s efforts to promote cuisine as a major tourism attraction.
Chen added that public health accounted for only 3.9 percent of total healthcare expenditure in 2011, which was not on a par with other countries, such as New Zealand with 7 percent in 2010, Vietnam with 13 to 15 percent from 1998 to 2005, Bhutan with 9 percent in 2010 and China with 10 percent in 2001, to name a few.
“Canada has improved from less than 5 percent to 6 to 7 percent in the past 15 years,” Chen added.
Yaung also attributed the problem to financing, adding that the government’s fiscal policy was to blame as a whole.
“Total tax revenue as a percentage of Taiwan’s GDP in 2005 was 19.6, but this figure dropped sharply to 11.8 last year, which is less than half of South Korea’s 26.8 percent last year,” Yaung said.
“Government policies, especially tax cuts, that are overly biased toward capitalists and for-profit corporations are clearly a mistake,” he said.