05/31/2013, 00.00
TAIWAN
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Tainan, food scandal: contaminated flour and starches on market

by Xin Yage
The court opens proceedings against three companies, which will have to pay heavy fines. The mayor orders - and supervises - the destruction of one hundred tons of flour. Maleic acid is at the center of the scandal, although there is no legislation at national level. Conflicting opinions on the toxicity.

Taipei (AsiaNews) - After repeated accusations of being slow in dealing with food scandals, including the contamination of flour and other starches used in the food industry, the court of the city of Tainan - in southern Taiwan - yesterday issued a subpoena for three manufacturers. They are the Ho-mei (和美) the Guan-shin (冠 馨) and Hsieh-chi Starch Manufacturer (协 奇). Following protests by the population and traders, more than a hundred tons of contaminated flour was already seized last week and has been destroyed. The operation took place yesterday afternoon, in one of the incinerators in the province, on the orders of the mayor of Tainan William Lai (赖清德). The companies were fined for both the contamination and ambiguous certification of the ingredients with which the flour sacks were registered.

The contaminant under indictment is maleic acid. Given that the national legislation does not provide for a rule that explicitly prohibits this acid as an ingredient of edible flour, the court had not yet begun an official investigation, but had to wait for the Department of Health to express a verdict on whether it is an ingredient injurious to health .

The President of the Administration of Environmental Protection, Yuan Shaw-ying (袁绍英) in charge of regulating toxic substances (毒 管 处) stated that maleic acid is a "unregulated" chemical by the toxic chemicals act. Chiou Chyou-huey (邱 求 慧) from the Industrial Development Office added that the maleic acid is used primarily as a "thickening agent in industrial processes", including the manufacture of paper and glue and is "non-toxic" because it is a chemical substance.

Other experts in the fields of pharmaceuticals, however, have reported data on a slight toxicity to the skin and eyes, resulting from the use of the acid in cosmetic products. For this reason,  health department  officials do not want to leave anything to chance, and they have given the green light to the court to authorize the destruction of contaminated flour. And also the speaker of parliament, in statements to the media last night, confirmed that the legislation will comply with the directives issued by the Department of Health, asking for heavy fines for offenders.

A Tainan, of the fifteen manufacturers of flour, seven have been fined and their production halted by the officers of the court. Overseeing the destruction of contaminated flour in person, the mayor said that "we want to stop the process at the root, when the starches are contaminated, so we have acted even more radically than the Department of Health, who wanted limit actions to fining some retailers. With this act also hope to re-establish the reputation of the city of Tainan. " However, it is not the first time that a food scandal has exploded in Taiwan: four years ago, the UPC Group (联 成 化工) was closed down for selling maleic acid purchased from Taiwan Prosperity Chemical Corporation (信 昌 化工). Even in that case, maleic acid had been sold to food companies and restaurants.

 

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