The passage of the amended Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) has been left in the lurch as the Ministry of Economic Affairs weighed in with a warning that the amendments would become “technical barriers to trade” and incur trade disputes.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) rebuffed the claim yesterday, calling the cited trade barriers “black-hearted” barriers blocking the passage of an amendment that would benefit Taiwanese.
The legislature is set to have an extra legislative session this coming week for the deliberation of the draft, which failed to clear the floor in the session that ended on Jan. 14.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare reportedly sent its revised version of the draft to the Legislative Yuan on Thursday, citing trade barriers and calling for a review of the regulations requiring food manufacturers to have their compound additives registered for permit and subsequent inspection and demanding the labeling of genetically modified food raw materials used.
Tien yesterday called into question the timing of the intervention by the ministries and the Food and Drug Administration.
The relevant authorities had failed to raise the concerns during the legislature’s deliberations and negotiations, she said.
She said it left her no choice but to believe that the authorities had come under pressure from food companies.
Tien said that the health authorities had agreed to revive in stages by July next year the registration of compound additives, a practice that had been suspended in 2000, mandating that three kinds of substances — preservatives, antioxidants and bleaching agents — be accounted for to complete registration and examination.
“Other compound additives are to be evaluated for their health risks by the food safety risk assessment committee and sorted for a scheduled inspection. What I’m asking is that this schedule is laid out and announced by July next year,” Tien said, adding that there is not even an article that could discipline the health authorities “if [the health authorities] decide to have the inspection schedule spanning 30 to 50 years.”
Food and Drug Administration Deputy Director-General Chiang Yu-mei (姜郁美) said that the compound additive registration rules were too strict and “no other countries have similar rules.”
According to Tien, the regulation on compound additives will not expose a food product’s formula since the rule requires the revelation of the additives used, not their percentages.
“Thailand, for example, even requires the percentages of the ingredients to be labeled. Why were there no ‘trade barrier’ protests there?” she asked.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare announced on Dec. 27 last year that spices were exempt from the full-disclosure requirement.
The National Development Council said in a statement that foreign chambers of commerce are satisfied with the measure, adding that media reports about one of its officials saying that Coca-Cola Co was planning to retreat from Taiwan were “inconsistent with what the official actually said” and “had caused trouble to both the council and the corporation.”
As for the regulations compelling the raw materials in genetically modified (GM) foods to be registered and labeled as such when a certain threshold amount was reached, which an official of the economic affairs ministry’s Office of Trade Negotiations has said creates a trade barrier, Tien said that Taiwan is now among the countries with the most loosely regulated GM food labeling laws.
“Twenty-eight EU member countries have the strictest GM food labeling and tracing regulations. Why does the trade barrier problem not apply to them?” Tien asked.
The complaint about mandatory disclosure of information relating to production facilities was likewise unacceptable for the legislator, who said that food companies can reveal the information as a barcode for the local authority’s reference.
In the US, the information about production facilities does not need to be included on a package’s label, but has to be reported to the local health authority for food source management, Tien said.