TAIPEI - A campaign to boycott Ting Hsin food products picked up momentum yesterday as food conglomerate tycoon Wei Ying-chung made his first public appearance since the latest tainted oil scandal erupted to apologise to the people of Taiwan.
Meanwhile, prosecutors raided a Ting Hsin manufacturing plant in Pingtung and seized 685 tonnes of oil following fresh revelations that the company imported animal feed-use oil from Vietnam.
Wei, who has resigned as chairman of three Ting Hsin Group cooking oil companies implicated in the scandal, claimed during a press conference in Taipei that he felt sorry for making Taiwan consumers worry about food safety.
At one point he burst into tears, claiming he would assume full responsibility.
Wei, who founded the conglomerate together with his brothers, said Ting Hsin is considering withdrawing from the Taiwan cooking oil market if it cannot make sure its products are entirely safe.
The food conglomerate has decided to suspend operations at Cheng-I Food Co. and Ting Hsin Oil & Fat Industrial Co., two of the three problematic oil companies implicated in the scandal.
Ting Hsin has come under tremendous pressure since the scandal erupted, with general consumers and schools mounting campaigns to boycott not just its oils but all other food products made by the group.
Taipei, New Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung and seven other cities and counties have instructed all schools under their jurisdiction to stop using and selling Ting Hsin products.
Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin said any food company that harms consumers' health to make undue profits must be heavily punished until it collapses.
Taichung Mayor Jason Hu said all institutions under the city government's control have removed all Ting Hsin products from their premises, and the city government is looking for ways to improve food safety.
Commissioner Wu Chi-yang of Taoyuan County, which has joined the Ting Hsin boycott campaign, said he supports consumers' call for boycotting unscrupulous companies.
In Yilan County, the commissioner of which made the very first call for a boycott of Ting Hsin's products, some retailers have shown open support for the campaign.
A local supermarket chain, Surewell, has had its 15 outlets put up posters that say "Refuse to buy tainted products," with all Ting Hsin products - including milk, pudding and drinks - removed from their shelves.
Surewell's management estimated the boycott would cost the supermarket chain a loss of NT$10 million (S$419,093) in annual revenues, but maintained that it is fulfilling its social responsibility.
Premier Jiang Yi-huah reaffirmed at a press conference the government's resolve to eliminate immoral food manufacturers from the market.
He said he has ordered the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Justice to act swiftly to track down all unscrupulous food companies, regardless of their size and market share.
"We must allow Taiwan's food industry to start anew and rebuild people's confidence in food safety," he said.
He predicted that more lard products may have to be recalled over the coming weeks as the investigation reveals more details.
While a shortage of such products may occur, the government will allow importation of more lard or pork fat from abroad to meet demand, he said.
The latest oil scandal erupted just a few weeks after Jiang assured the public that all oils on the market were safe. His guarantee came as investigators wrapped up a probe into a major oil company, Chang Guann, which made lard oil products using waste oil.
The Ting Hsin oil company's Cheng-I Food, which is at the centre of the latest scandal, was also alleged by some lawmakers to be making substandard products when the Chang Guann case broke out. But the allegations were ignored at the time.
Investigators have now found that Cheng-I had been importing animal feed-use oils from Vietnam and blending them with oils meant for human consumption.
An economics professor, Chen Chi-chung from Chung Hsing University, said the authorities should have detected the illegal practices at Cheng-I long ago by simply comparing the amounts of actual animal feed output and the volume of oil imports for making animal feed.
It should have raised a flag when the imports far exceeded the need to produce the animal feed, Chen said.
Meanwhile, authorities in Fujian province, China have recalled 9,848 kilograms of problematic Taiwan-made food products in the wake of the latest oil scandal, the Central News Agency said.