Lawmakers reiterate call for setting up food police

‘LOOPHOLE’::Legislators said that in addition to a food police, the Ministry of Health and Welfare had to restore a registration system for additives and flavoring in products

By Alison Hsiao  /  Staff reporter, with CNA

Tue, Nov 12, 2013 - Page 3

In the wake of recent food scares, lawmakers yesterday again proposed the establishment of a food safety police force and called for reinstating the registration system for compound food additives abolished in 2000.

Food safety and sanitation inspectors, unlike police and prosecutors, do not have the power to search factories or seize products.

Chang Chi Foodstuff Factory Co, the company at the center of the adulterated oil scandal, obstructed inspections by local health authorities several times before the Ministry of Justice’s prosecution and investigation unit intervened, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said.

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) slammed the health ministry yesterday in the legislature’s plenary session for failing to come up with a plan to establish a food police force, as previously recommend by legislative committees.

She also asked the health ministry to present an evaluation report on the proposal within two weeks.

Minister of Health and Welfare Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達) responded to Tien’s request by saying the health ministry, together with the National Police Agency, has been working on the idea, but efforts have been hampered by manpower shortages.

Chiu and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Tsai Chin-lung (蔡錦隆) also faulted the health ministry for letting food companies off the hook by no longer requiring them to register compound food additives and flavorings, which they said created a “food safety loophole” that contributed to violations.

Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Division director Tsai Shu-chen (蔡淑貞) said the registration system was scrapped to streamline trade with foreign countries after Taiwan joined the WTO in 2000.

She said that the health ministry has given notice of a new regulation that will require all food-related companies to register their products.

However, Tien said this only require firms to list product names, meaning consumers and downstream companies will still be exposed.

“Whether consumers and downstream businesses suffer depends on how conscientious upstream food companies are. Yet [Chiu] also said earlier [that the system] cannot beat human evil. Do you still think the current system is sufficient?” Tien asked FDA Director-General Yeh Ming-kung (葉明功).

Yeh said the agency would seriously consider the proposal to restore the registration system for compound food additives.

In related developments, several major edible oil distributors in China’s Fujian Province said they will file a lawsuit against Chang Chi, a lawyer said yesterday.

Tsai Wen-pin (蔡文斌), who is representing the companies in Xiamen, China, said he would file the suit today and seek damages of at least NT$5.3 million (US$179,600). Of that, NT$1.9 million would be for inventory losses, while 700,000 yuan (US$115,000) is for the damage done to his clients’ reputations.

The lawyer said the amount of compensation requested may go up, because the distributors have not given him a final figure on losses incurred yet as Chang Chi products are still being returned by customers. The final claim would be made after spoken proceedings, he said.

Tsai Wen-pin previously said that cross-strait lawsuits are rarely filed as it is difficult to be awarded compensation in such cases.

“Realistically speaking, the assets of the manufacturer in question have been frozen, so even if we win the case, it would be difficult for us to obtain compensation,” Tsai said.

Last month, Chang Chi was found to have been mixing cottonseed oil and other cheap oils into its more expensive grapeseed and olive oil products. In some cases, it used copper chlorophyllin, a coloring agent, to make the substitutes look more like olive oil.

Other oil suppliers subsequently found to be selling similarly adulterated oil include Flavor Full Foods Inc, Formosa Oilseed Processing Co and Wei Chuan Foods Corp.