The Council of Agriculture (COA) yesterday said it would mediate between noodle companies and rice farmers to cooperate on contract farming, and promote the Certified Agricultural Standard (CAS) label to guarantee product quality.
The council made the comment in response to recent finding by independent consumers’ rights organizations that nearly 90 percent of rice-noodle brands sold in the country are not as pure as their makers claim.
Of the 52 rice-noodle brands purchased from major wholesale and retail chains, 45 were found to have been adulterated, said Consumers’ Foundation chairman Mark Chang (張智剛) said, adding that 39 of the 45 substandard products, or 75 percent, were discovered to contain less than 20 percent rice.
According to the national standard, rice vermicelli is defined in two types. The first is made of pure rice flour, so that the raw protein in each portion can reach 5 percent or higher. The other type is made of mixed-grain flour or starch, but the raw protein must account for more than 2.5 percent.
Agriculture and Food Agency Director Li Tsang-lang (李蒼郎) yesterday said the spirit of the Food Management Act (糧食管理法) was to secure food safety, by first guaranteeing sufficient food supply and then the quality of the food.
Since vermicelli rice noodles are manufactured food products, they contain more than one ingredient and may contain additives, so the problem lies in whether they are labeled truthfully, Li said.
He added that there are already articles in the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) and the Fair Trade Act (公平交易法) that regulate false labeling, so more discussion would be needed to determine whether the Food Management Act should be amended to regulate the situation.
“Starches appearing in vermicelli rice noodles is not something that happened just yesterday,” COA Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) said, adding that the existing laws do not actually regulate on this issue, but the council will promote Taiwanese rice and cooperate with related government agencies on regulating the product labels so consumers can easily ascertain the proportion of rice.
According to Li, about 90 percent of vermicelli rice noodles contain corn starch — a situation the agency is not pleased with.
He added that the council has decided to promote contract farming between food companies and farmers, or with the council, to purchase and store grains, starting in this year’s second harvest season.
The agency is also planning to screen for appropriate rice species to make vermicelli rice noodles and will urge food companies to apply for CAS labels, to guarantee that their products are made of good quality rice produced in Taiwan, Li added.
Additional reporting by CNA