The Consumers’ Foundation yesterday questioned the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) explanation of a case of benzene — a carcinogen — being detected in cooking oil products, urging the agency to provide evidence to back up its claims.
On Friday last week, the foundation held a news conference in Taipei to announce that two inspections of cooking oil products conducted in May and July had found that three Great Day (得意的一天) brand blended oil products made by Standard Foods Corp (佳格食品) contained benzene levels of more than 5 parts per billion (ppb).
The foundation said that the government had set a maximum allowable level of 5ppb for benzene in drinking water, but that no allowable level had been set for cooking oil products. It said the carcinogen should not be detected in any cooking oil product.
It said the results of the tests were sent to six local health departments and the FDA.
On the same day, the FDA issued a statement which said that the agency had investigated the case and found no artificially added benzene in the ingredients and the manufacturing process of the three cooking oil products in question, adding that “the benzene levels detected fall in the range of the natural background levels suggested in research, so people should not panic.”
The agency said its examination of the three products showed the benzene levels to be 3.8ppb, 4ppb and zero.
On Sunday and yesterday, the agency released the results of two other tests on cooking oils which showed that of eight products randomly inspected in late August, two were found to contain benzene levels of 2ppb and 2.9ppb
In the second test, 17 products were found to contain benzene levels of less than 2ppb and six products between 2ppb and 34.2ppb.
It said analysis of natural background levels of benzene in cooking oil suggested a maximum allowable benzene level of 150ppb for vegetable oil.
The foundation yesterday said the FDA’s statements have confused the public, and that the explanation that benzene exists in the environment and the benzene detected in the cooking oil products came from the environment “were irresponsible.”
Foundation chairman Alan Lu (陸雲) questioned why the FDA did not officially respond to the foundation after it had reported the case more than once.
While the foundation was trying to raise public awareness and urge the government to face food safety issues seriously, the agency’s response seemed to be missing the point.
“This is not a problem with whether there is an international tolerable maximum limit set for benzene in cooking oil, but rather that there should not even be benzene in cooking oil,” Lu said.
The foundation urged the FDA to provide detailed information about its experiments and the results of the self-examinations conducted by the company in which “no abnormalities were detected.”
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