Ensuring food safety requires more than just recalling tainted products, the Consumers’ Foundation said yesterday, calling for more thorough compensation mechanisms following a recent string of food-related scandals.
In one such scandal, I-Mei Food Co was found to be using expired raw materials to produce cream puffs. The company promptly apologized and said consumers who had purchased the products could request a complete refund.
However, the foundation said that refunds fail to properly compensate those who have already consumed the products.
Issuing a mea culpa without saying how many packages have been recalled and how many might still be on the market is not enough, it said. The foundation added that offers to donate money to consumer advocacy groups — as I-Mei recently suggested doing — could be seen as a kind of “hush money” if other consumer compensation measures are not put in place.
Instead, consumers should be compensated with funds raised by forcing business that have broken the law to relinquish the profits they have made from their contaminated items, the group said, an idea it first proposed after China’s melamine-laced milk scandal in 2008. However, the idea has received little support from the government.
Raising penalties to NT$6 million (US$200,000) or NT$10 million would not eliminate food safety transgressions because companies can earn tens of millions selling the tainted products and “it’s hard to chase down the main person in charge or to close down the factories,” foundation chief financial officer Terry Huang (黃怡騰) said.
“Problematic factories can also declare bankruptcy and re-open under a different name,” he said.
The foundation urged the government to push for legislation to hold offenders accountable by demanding they return all earnings made from tainted products. It also called on food businesses to establish compensation mechanisms.
In related news, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus yesterday said the government should play a more active role in addressing the public’s fears over food safety.
After a wide variety of starch products were found to be contaminated with maleic acid on May 13, the Department of Health launched a food safety program and inspections of every starch manufacturer and distributor nationwide. However, food vendors have had a hard time providing the certificates proving that their products are not tainted, DPP Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) told a press conference.
The caucus urged the government to set up a monitoring mechanism for food material manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers; a registration system for food additives; a mechanism to monitor imports; and a regulation to freeze the assets of manufacturers who provide illegal food additives and use the money to compensate consumers, Yeh said.
The starch scandal shows President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has not learned from China’s mistakes, DPP Legislator Chiu Chih-wei (邱志偉) said, adding that Department of Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達) should be held accountable for the tainted food.