06/06/2013, 00.00
TAIWAN
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Food scandal widens: not just flour, but ice cream and rice

by Xin Yage
Puddings and ice creams containing agar powder and contaminated tapioca seized. Rice containing pesticides also discovered. The government steps up food safety controls and fines.

Taipei (AsiaNews) - The scandal of contaminated food products is widening. In fact, on Saturday June 1, the newspapers carried front-page photos of eight popular products sold in Taiwan, including a pudding and ice cream loved by children, and two other locally produced American Cold Stone ice creams. The products were immediately requisitioned by supermarkets and shops, and stocks have been detained.


A.G.V. Products (爱 之 味) and Uni-President (统一), two leading companies in Taiwan's food have been forced to remove products marked as containing agar powder (gelling agent extracted from red seaweed) and contaminated tapioca powder.

Meanwhile, the checks on contaminated flour continue. In Taipei the Department of Health has inspected 123 grocery retailers, discovering five that did not have any certification of origin for their products. If they cannot procure the necessary information, they will be fined for a total of 6 thousand dollars.

The government has also made clear to all dealers: if they are inspected again, and caught with goods that contain maleic acid, they will be subject to fines of up to 200 thousand dollars.

Since Thursday, May 30 a total of 8,488 inspections of commercial establishments were conducted. 91 percent of retailers were in good standing, selling products certified in accordance with the Health Safety regulations and with the correct label of ingredients clearly exposed.

This past weekend the Shulin incinerator in New Taipei, destroyed 22 tons of contaminated flour, the rest of the requisitioned products will be destroyed within a week.

Checks were also extend to the south of the island, especially Taichung, where the flour scandal began, a team of experienced food safety officers, led by director Huang Mei-na (黄美娜) inspected the famous Fengjia night markets (逢甲 夜市). After checking 289 retailers, four of them, whe did not meet set standards, were immediately blocked.

Molti commercianti si lamentano che per colpa di pochi che hanno venduto alimentari contaminati, le vendite di tutti vengono danneggiate per la paura diffusa fra i clienti. Il governo ha risposto ringraziando tali commercianti per la loro collaborazione alle ispezioni, e li hanno incoraggiati a proseguire nella loro buona condotta.

Many retailers are complaining that because of a few who sold contaminated food, all sales have been damaged by a widespread fear among customers. The government has responded by thanking those traders for their cooperation in inspections, and encouraging them to continue keeping up with safety standards.

But there's more. As of Tuesday, June 4, the scandal has spread even to the rice sold in supermarkets. Yesterday the Foundation for Consumer Protection (中华民国 消费者 文教 基金会) divulged the results of quality tests on brown rice, (糙米). The international standard is divided into three levels of quality, from the top to standard. But 60 percent of the brands of rice reported false information about the quality, including Cotton Land (棉花 田 生机 园地), fined for not make displaying production dates and the degree of quality, and Fuli Organic (富丽有机 米) which even contained pesticides.

The Director of the Association of Organic Farmers manufacturers of Fuli Lin Huei-huang (林辉煌), after the publication of the results, immediately released a statement of apology to Taiwanese media, ensuring that the group has already ordered the withdrawal of its products from supermarkets.

Other brands of rice which did not meet the standards of the three levels of quality were major companies such as Uni-President Organic Rice, Sunsuivi (山水 糙米), I-Mei (义 美 美味), Taisugar (台糖 有机), Carrefour (家乐福) and Welcome (顶 好 有机).

Interviewed in supermarkets, customers are wondering at this point what they can eat without endangering their health. A father says, "What should I buy for my children? Furthermore, it is unfair to ask customers for inflated prices for an alleged higher quality when in reality we are being sold substandard products or even products that are harmful to our health."

Given the size of the scandal that has come to light in the last two weeks, Cheng Jen-hung (程仁宏) a member of the Cabinet Committee (Control Yuan, 监察院) stated on June 3, that an investigative group has been formed to review the mechanisms inspection of food safety in Taiwan.

"The fact that well-known food producing companies are involved - he said Chen - means that there is certainly something wrong in our inspection mechanism. It all started with a small negligence on the part of the officials responsible for inspection and then got out of control."

Yesterday Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta (邱文 达) presented a full report to the Central Kuomintang Cabinet and new inspection rules were issued, which include a 15 million in fines (500 thousand dollars) or imprisonment for companies that use additives that can lead to potentially fatal diseases.

President Ma Ying-jeou stressed the importance of preventive controls, because the bad image that this is creating in the food industry, as well as endangering the health of citizens, severely impairs exports to other countries.

 

 

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