In response to the false labeling of packaged rice products by major rice mills and distributors, including the mixing of cheaper imported rice with domestic rice, Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) said the council will set up an inventory system within two weeks to monitor imported rice.
Reporting to the Legislative Yuan’s Economic Committee yesterday, Chen said the council is planning to amend the Food Administration Act (糧食管理法) to ban mixing of imported rice and domestic rice in packaged rice products.
The planned amendment will also allow the council to order rice companies committing serious violations to halt operations immediately or have their food trading license withdrawn, he said, adding that the upper limit of fines imposed for serious cases will be increased from NT$200,000 (US$6,800) to a maximum of NT$3 million.
However, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lin Tai-hua (林岱樺) questioned how the council plans to manage the quality of rice that restaurants, snack bars and the catering industry serve — as the rice they use is not packaged.
She also questioned whether the council has any clue where the 144,000 tonnes of rice imported into Taiwan every year goes after passing customs inspections.
As 65 percent of imported rice is purchased by the government as public grain, and often ends up being donated to low-income families or used for school lunch programs, she said if the Council does not monitor its movement it may be taking the lead in mixing imported and domestic rice.
In response, Chen admitted that the council does not monitor the distribution of imported rice at present, but will develop an inventory system and standard operating procedures to do so within two weeks.
He also agreed that the COA will consult with the Ministry of Health and Welfare within a week on whether the catering industry should be required to reveal the sources of rice, similar to the mandatory labeling of beef sources.
Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Hsu Chung-hsin (許忠信) suggested that domestic rice grown in different areas should also be labeled to show where it was produced to avoid situations in which, for example, peaches from other parts of the nation are labeled as being from Lalashan (拉拉山) and sold at premium prices.
Chen said it is not as easy to distinguish rice grown in different parts of the same country as it is to identify imported rice, but the council has encouraged the establishment of local labeling systems at township levels.
So far this has helped in the establishment of nine local tea origin labeling schemes.