National Science Council (NSC) Minister Cyrus Chu (朱敬一) said he could not force the authors of a paper that found mixing of edible oils in 2011 to release the report, but he promised to review the related regulations within three weeks. Legislators have blamed the NSC for not releasing the results of the research project, which was partially funded by the council.
On Monday, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chao Tien-lin (趙天麟) accused the NSC of concealing information that was in the public interest.
Chao said that a research project for testing sesame oil products in 2011 — by National Taiwan University professors Su Nan-wei (蘇南維) and Lee Min-hsiung (李敏雄) — found four out of seven products were mixed with soybean oil between 31 percent and 44 percent, but the full report was not released.
Moreover, because the project was an academia-industry collaboration project, applied for by researchers working for Flavor Full Food Inc — one of the companies at the center of the recent oil adulteration food scandal and its other research fund sponsor — legislators questioned whether the council or the researchers concealed the results to protect the company’s interests.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) criticized the council for not reporting the research findings to the necessary government agencies and not monitoring how the council’s funds were spent.
“I don’t agree that the council is to be blamed in the process,” Chu said, adding that the research project was for examining a certain testing method, so the findings only showed the seven oil products in coded form — labeled from A to G — and it was impossible to tell which products came from which company.
The researchers had chosen not to release their results and the council did not have the authority to publicize them, Chu said, adding that researchers can choose not to release results within one or two years because they might be in the process of applying for patents or intellectual property rights, preparing to publish the results in academic conferences or journals, or for other reasons, so the council cannot determine public interest by reviewing the reports it receives.
“Although conducted in the name of research, this result concerns safety and public interest, and should be publicized,” Lin said.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) said the council’s budget for funding academia-industry collaboration projects has increased in recent years, but from this case, it seems that the NSC is incapable of thoroughly examining the projects’ results to understand whether they are of public interest.
Unsatisfied with the explanation, legislators continued to question the council’s funding of projects with tax dollars, but without the right to publicize the findings.
People First Party Legislator Thomas Lee (李桐豪) said the council should establish a mechanism to inform the research project leaders that if their findings affect the public interest, they are obliged to report them to the university or related government agencies for review.
Chu said they would deliberate on the mechanism within two to three weeks.
Later, the council released a statement saying its initial decision was to add a checkbox item to the application form for project funding saying “results may have a serious effect on public interest,” so that when researchers checked the item, the project’s results would go through a different review process.
If the review went on to confirm the results were of concern to the public, the council would inform the necessary government agencies and also provide scientific support if the agencies think the results require further examination.