Nine people were indicted on Monday by the Tainan District Prosecutors’ Office for producing and selling modified starches containing maleic anhydride, an industrial chemical not approved for use in foods.
The nine defendants, six of whom own starch manufacturing firms, were charged with fraud, producing and selling hazardous foods and violating the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法), the office said.
The indictment asks for a heavy penalty because the defendants had sought to “profit at the expense of the people’s health and Taiwan’s international image as a kingdom of gourmet foods.”
The scandal erupted in May last year when health authorities announced they had found that some foods in local markets contained maleic anhydride.
An investigation eventually tracked down six producers making the tainted modified starch — a widely used food additive to enhance food texture.
Prosecutors accused the defendants of knowing that maleic anhydride was an industrial material used mainly to produce polyester resin and pesticides and was not authorized for use in foods.
The vendors added the chemical to liquefied starch so that it would “make foods chewier,” the indictment said.
The prosecutors handling the case said the defendants sold modified starch with a maleic anhydride concentration of 1,589.6 to 4,862 parts per million to retailers, food processors, restaurants and food vendors who were unaware that it contained the banned ingredient.
The tainted starch was then used to produce oden, pearl tapioca and other popular local snacks.
Their investigation found that about 19.11 million kilograms of the tainted starch was sold, earning the firms NT$478 million (US$15.8 million), prosecutors said.