Foundation pans FDA over latest food scandal

DELAY QUESTIONED::After a retailer and manufacturer recalled tainted products, a consumer group asked why the FDA did not act sooner to protect the public’s health

By Alison Hsiao  /  Staff reporter

Sat, May 18, 2013 - Page 4

Following the discovery of maleic acid — an industrial chemical banned from use in the food industry — in products containing starch, the Consumers’ Foundation yesterday accused the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of bureaucratic ineptitude and failure in its duty of supervision over food safety.

Two years to the month after a food scare in May 2011 over plasticizers being used in food additives, the FDA said on Monday that out of 74 randomly inspected food products, five were found to contain the banned organic compound.

The products found to be in violation of regulations included tapioca — which is widely used in bubble tea — and oden, which is sold in many convenience stores.

The foundation yesterday questioned why the FDA stopped short of revealing its findings immediately if, as the agency stated in a press release, it had received tip-offs about the use of industrial starch in mid-March and had discovered who was responsible a month later.

“The convenience store chain involved in the scandal was aware of the problem and pulled its oden products containing maleic acid off of its shelves on April 30, and the manufacturer said it stopped delivering these products from April 28 due to the contamination,” foundation chairman Mark Chang (張智剛) said.

“Despite these acts by the distributor and the producer, it took the FDA two weeks to announce the results of its tests,” Chang said, emphasizing that this means consumers had been unknowingly consuming maleic during this time.

“The foundation has been demanding the establishment of a food-traceability system, which was also mentioned during the plasticizer scandal, and the revision of related laws to rein in food manufacturers, but these calls have constantly been overlooked by the food authority,” Chang said.

Foundation board member Yu Kai-hsiung (游開雄) said the FDA had attempted to “conceal manufacturers’ guilt” by endorsing the harmlessness of consuming small amounts of the chemical.

At the height of the plasticizer scandal the FDA said on its Web site that 85 percent of any di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP, consumed can be metabolized and excreted by the body within 72 hours.

“The agency again said of the present case that 30g of maleic acid a day is tolerable, adding that the chemical is neither carcinogenic nor genotoxic and does not pose risks to reproduction,” Chang said.

“They clearly do not take the health of the general public seriously,” Yu added.

“These food scandals have led the foundation to believe that the FDA has failed in its duty to supervise public food safety,” Chang said, who yesterday issued a complaint to the Control Yuan, calling for correction and censure of the FDA.