The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed on Tuesday rumours that local trade companies have been importing food products from irradiated regions of Japan, with nearly 300 items on the list as of press time.
Bureau of Foreign Trade Director-General Jen-ni Yang said yesterday that the bureau dispatched an investigation team to probe the claims of the importers - who stressed that the tainted products were imported due to a mistake - and noted that the companies will be fined or barred from importing goods for a year should the products prove to have been mislabeled.
The products have been imported from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba prefectures in Japan, all of which have been affected by the nuclear accident caused by the earthquake that rocked the nation in 2011.
The goods have been imported to Taiwan with labels claiming false origins; the FDA and local government branch offices have ordered all suspicious products to be removed from stores and retailers to prevent further misunderstandings.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MHW) should be looking into the case as well, said Yang.
Allegations have pointed out that the MHW has been planning to allow the import of products from the nuclear-affected regions in Japan, to which Yang replied that the related departments have only been discussing the circumstances under which the food products from the nuclear-affected prefectures would be safe to consume.
"After the news of the imported tainted products was publicized yesterday, the proposal has been put on hold and we will see how the MHW plans to deal with it in the future," said Yang.
The inaccurate labeling of the food products had reportedly been discovered during customs inspections. The MHW said that it is possible that the labels had been tampered with in Japan, before they were brought to Taiwan.
First Mislabeling Case Happened Last Month: MHW
The first case of false labeling was discovered in February, when customs officers in Keelung reported a batch of freight containers containing the well-known Kikkoman soy sauce; while the Chinese labels read that the soy sauce was manufactured in Hokkaido, the Japanese labels read Chiba Prefecture.
The said batch of food products were held back at customs and did not make it into Taiwan.
The MHW issued warnings to 10 food product importers that had imported the tainted goods, and all 10 responded today saying that they would co-operate with the government's probes, though protesting at the same time that they were misled by the food export company in Japan.
The 10 food companies include Sheng Yu, Li Tuo, Sun Friend and Tai Crown.
The Taiwanese importers claimed that their Japanese contacts had ordered the products from the irradiated prefectures after the orders from Taiwan were placed; this was the reason that the identification codes for the products read differently in Japanese and Chinese.
Consumers are asked to return the products themselves.
According to Food and Drug Administration chief Chiang Yu-mei, the false labels only contained 5 per cent of Japanese and Han Chinese characters, while the remaining 95 per cent was presented in code.
"The FDA had translated the code into characters by using information on the Internet; we did not ask for the assistance of the Japanese government during the process," said Chiang.
Governments Calls to Pull Tainted Products
Among the near-300 products, many were popular and well-known by Taiwanese people.
The list includes the popular KitKat chocolate bars, Blendystick instant coffee and beverages, Calpis drinks, Nissin instant noodles in various flavors, bottled milk tea and red tea made by Kirin and many others.
The New Taipei City Government has held back 6.4 tons of food products that were supposedly from the radiation-stricken regions in Japan, while the public health bureaus in Changhua County, Pingtung County, Keelung City, Tainan City, Chiayi City and Kaohsiung City have begun pulling suspicious products from shelves.
A complete list of the said products can be seen here: www.chinapost.com.tw/taiwan/mislabel.pdf