The recent food safety crisis could serve as a turning point for the nation’s food industry if the government, manufacturers, wholesalers and the public make a joint effort to resolve the situation, the Taiwan Association for Food Science and Technology said on Monday at a forum on food safety.
All the representatives of civic groups present at the forum agreed that it is the government’s duty to ensure the safety of food “from the field to the table,” which it can achieve by strengthening and rigorously enforcing food regulations, providing transparent and free access to food safety information, and adhering to international food safety standards, the association said in a statement.
Lucy Sun (孫璐西), a National Taiwan University professor of food science and technology and a honorary member of the association’s board, urged the government to immediately take three critical steps: First, it should eradicate the presence of harmful chemicals in food products by writing into law severe criminal punishments for those who violate regulations.
Second, it should launch a whistle-blowing platform to encourage the reporting of dubious practices, with rewards and protection offered to informants.
Third, the government should establish a “food police force, who can accompany food sanitation and safety inspectors when they conduct spot checks at factories,” Sun said.
According to a report presented by the Food and Drug Administration at the 2011 National Food Safety Conference, there are 102,202 registered food manufacturers, and 263,293 food stalls and registered food businesses nationwide.
In contrast, there are only 471 people in charge of inspecting food, which means that every inspector is responsible for 96 food manufacturers and 555 businesses.
Consumers’ Foundation board member Hwang Yu-sheng (黃鈺生) suggested revising the current food labeling regulations to require manufacturers to list ingredients and additives separately.
“Food product labels have to be clear and easily understood by consumers, and one way of achieving this is to have different labels for raw materials and additives,” Huang said.
Calling on food manufacturers and wholesalers to improve their self-management, Nutrition Society of Taiwan honorary director-general Wang Chin-kun (王進崑) encouraged businesses to only hire qualified food specialists as purchasing agents to guarantee the professional management of food products throughout the production and retailing chain.
For their part, consumers should carefully examine the products they purchase, Homemakers United Foundation president Chen Man-li (陳曼麗) said, cautioning buyers against purchasing products with unclear labels or substandard packaging.