The Ministry of Health and Welfare was criticized yesterday for calling heavy metals found in oil packets in instant noodles “unavoidable” and claiming “there is no risk” involved in consuming such low levels of metals.
The Chinese-language Business Today magazine earlier this week reported that seven kinds of popular instant noodles it sent for metal content testing were found to have either one, two, three or all of the heavy metals arsenic, mercury, lead and copper in their oil or sauce packets.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇), National Taiwan Normal University professor of chemistry Gaston Wu (吳家誠), National Taiwan University professor of public health Wu Kuen-yuh (吳焜裕) and Homemakers United Foundation president Chen Man-li (陳曼麗) questioned the appropriateness of the health authority’s statement issued after the news broke that some instant noodle sauces and oils were tainted by heavy metals.
“The statement first says that heavy metals contained in food products are mainly from the environment so are unavoidable contaminants, but it did not provide any evidence proving that the presence of the metals found in the oil packets could be attributed to the background level of those metals,” Tien said.
The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) statement issued on Wednesday said the results of “the risk assessment of the intake of related products” indicate that there is no risk in consuming the products.
“Which division of the FDA or which academic did this risk assessment?” asked Tien, accusing the ministry of issuing the statement without actually conducting a thorough risk assessment of the food products.
Gaston Wu accused the ministry for misleadingly assuring the safety of the products by claiming that it would take 96 packs of instant noodles for an adult weighing 60kg to exceed the tolerable daily intake of lead or 917 packs to exceed the tolerable daily intake of copper.
“No one would eat 96 packs a day. What we are asking for is not health limited to one day, either. The problem lies in the accumulation of these heavy metals, which could lead to serious chronic diseases,” he said.
The group compared the amount of the metal contents found in the oil packets to both the maximum residue limits of metals in drinking water and in edible oil as there is no standard set for oil packets, and found some of them exceeded acceptable levels.
FDA food division chief Tsai Shu-chen (蔡淑貞) responded to the findings and the criticism by saying that it is hard to set a standard for processed food products, such as the oil and sauce packets in this case, since “they are composed of oil, vegetables and other elements that might each have different background levels of metals.”
“Vegetables, especially mushrooms, might have higher maximum residue limits of lead and cadmium due to the environment in which they grow,” she added, but did not elaborate on the three other metals found in the products.
Tsai said what the authority should do is to make sure that the raw materials used in the processed products and the processing procedures comply with the regulations.