Participants at the National Food Safety Conference delivered a strong message yesterday that rebuilding the nation’s reputation as a gourmet nation in the wake of recent food scares requires the cooperation of the government and the food industry.
Delegates discussed the role of government systems and regulations and of the self-management of the food industry, while also singling out the media’s role.
It was suggested that the existing Executive Yuan food and drug safety task force, which is convened only when needed, be replaced by a standing food safety committee and an independent risk-assessing institution.
Integrating agricultural and food departments would also ensure better top-down supervision and management, it was suggested.
“While the US and Japan separate agriculture and food administrations, they both have a standing committee either in their presidential office or the Cabinet,” former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) director-general Kang Jaw-jou (康照洲) said.
“In contrast to this system, many European countries have a single agency that leads food safety management, an example that can be followed by Taiwan,” Kang said.
Chemical and food clouds for storing and integrating relevant information are also now under development to prevent the inflow of illicit substances.
Another proposal was for food education to be incorporated into national education, and to require food companies and factories to have food technicians as part of their food safety management teams.
“In the past 16 years, we had only 461 people taking food technician certification exams,” minister without portfolio Oliver Hu (胡幼圃) said. “However, we now have more than 1,200 on record.”
Yet freshly minted food technicians, unfamiliar with the manufacturing processes, cannot be the leading executive in the team, FDA Deputy Director-General Chiang Yu-mei (姜郁美) said.
“They must have at least two years’ experience in the related field,” Chiang said.
Taiwan Association for Food Professional Technologist president Yu Yen-Tsun (余嚴尊) said technologists should be placed into three categories: those cooperating with the industry, those as civil servants working for the government, and those as independent third parties.
Recent food scares highlighted the miscommunication between the health authority, the public and the media, the FDA said, adding that a warning system on the risk level of food incidents is to be established.
Food representatives, feeling bitter about the industry now being called “black-hearted,” also demanded accurate reporting from the media and better management of news and program presenters to disseminate information responsibly.
National Taiwan University chemistry professor Her Guor-rong (何國榮) said labels such as “toxic” starch or oils, which are in fact “adulterated,” are misnomers.
Taipei Chemical Suppliers’ Association executive director Hsu Tin-chen (許庭禎) called into question the newly amended Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) that requires food labels to indicate every ingredient in a compound, adding that no country has set such regulations, which create trade barriers and run afoul of WTO regulations.
“Many spice containers bought from foreign companies are now stuck at customs because they failed to provide the information. Are you going to ask Coca Cola to provide its formulation too?” Hsu asked.