Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers and lawyer Wellington Koo (顧立雄) yesterday accused the government of failing to supervise the food industry and urged the government to act more aggressively to ensure companies refund affected consumers.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare on Thursday asked all edible oil businesses to provide an affidavit by Thursday next week guaranteeing the raw materials and additives on their labels were correctly stated.
The authority also announced that Friday next week will be “D-Day” for an extended edible oil inspection to make sure that “all the edible oil products on the market are free from mislabeling or fraudulent claims,” Minister of Health and Welfare Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達) said.
DPP Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) called the inspection into question, saying the core idea of “D-Day” is businesses’ self-discipline, “which is exactly what has been proven as lacking by the recent food safety scandals.”
Lin, together with three other DPP lawmakers and Koo, previously a lawyer for former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and now seeking a party nomination for Taipei mayor, called for further revisions to the amended Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) that took effect in June.
The group proposed to strengthen the protection for whistle-blowers, by explicitly stipulating how informants are to be rewarded, shifting the burden of proof of food safety from consumers to food businesses in relation to compensation claims stipulated in Article 56, and allowing local governments to file public-interest litigations against regulation-violating businesses for compensation.
“Extending the protection for whistle-blowing from employees to anyone in the processing chain, such as people in downstream businesses, can boost insiders’ incentive to inform,” Koo said.
Koo also proposed raising the maximum amount of compensation from the current NT$20,000 to NT$30,000 per person.
DPP Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) emphasized the need of a legally based food safety fund, “without which the fines seized by the government would go into state coffers and not be used for consumer compensation or whistle-blowing rewards.”
Tien said the ministry had spurned the proposal to set up such a fund in the recent legislative plenary session, but relented recently after yet another food scandal.
Another proposal that had been rejected by the executive authority was one to increase the maximum sentence for those who sold illegally adulterated products from the current three years to five years in prison, Liu said.
“President Ma has recently advised that the penalties will be raised [to more than three years]. We hope that the related authorities do not act against Ma’s instructions this time,” DPP Legislator Liu Chien-kuo (劉建國) said.
Meanwhile, Lin said yesterday that Flavor Full Food Inc’s supervisor and research and development executive director was a member on the ministry-commissioned oil review committee.
Lin said that Lee Min-Hsiung (李敏雄), a former professor of agricultural chemistry at National Taiwan University, was quoted as suggesting testing only on high-priced oils, such as olive oil, sesame oil and peanut oil, “as they are more likely to be adulterated.”
Later yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration said Lee did not join the review meeting examining the research project’s results and was invited as an expert, adding his suggestion to test only high-priced oils was not adopted.