Experts and public interest groups yesterday condemned moves to change rules on food labeling, saying that public health should not be compromised.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare has said the mandatory registration of compound additives proposed in an amendment to the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) is not “geared toward the global trend.”
Lin Chung-yin (林中英), a post-doctoral researcher of clinical toxicology at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, said that the “global trend” is based on rigorous oversight of factories that manufacture the additives, which is absent in Taiwan.
Factories in other countries need to be registered with their governing authority and overseen by certified food technicians, Lin said.
“Therefore for them no mandatory registration of compound additives is required,” Lin said.
However, there is no effective monitoring mechanism for such factories, many of which are not even properly registered, she added.
Perry Chiu (丘志威), a former professor of food science at Fu Jen Catholic University, agreed with Lin.
“Many raw material suppliers in the nation also sell food additives, but since they are not registered as food additive manufacturers, the Food and Drug Administration said it is not responsible for their operations,” he said.
“However, when the Environmental Protection Administration was asked questions about the jurisdiction, it said it was only in charge of the four classes of toxic chemical substances [defined in the Toxic Chemical Substances Control Act, 毒性化學物質管理法],” he added.
The lack of supervision has contributed to the outbreak of food scandals in recent years, in which Taiwanese food manufacturers were found to be producing food adulterated with industrial chemicals, including substituting plasticizers for emulsifiers and mixing maleic acid with modified starch, Chiu said.
Chiu said he doubted the country’s trade would be seriously affected by the proposed amendment.
He said the excuse of “manpower insufficiency” often brought up by health authorities whenever mandatory registration is enforced was not valid.
“The government is squandering money on many unnecessary projects that could otherwise be used to commission professional groups to conduct the checks,” Chiu said.
Hsu Hui-yu (許惠玉), head of the John Tung Foundation’s food nutrition section, agreed.
“An earlier proposal to have food ingredients listed in order of predominance, a practice implemented in many countries to deter dishonest marketing, was brushed aside by the agency, which said it was incapable of conducting such checks due to a lack of manpower,” Hsu said.
National Taiwan University agronomy professor Warren Kuo (郭華仁) was also dissatisfied with the current draft, which he said included only a couple of articles regulating genetically modified (GM) food, an underperformance compared with the EU, China, Japan, South Korea and Australia’s thorough GM food-targeted regulations.
The amended draft is to be discussed in the legislature today.