TAIWAN - The cooking oil scare has again raised huge concerns over food safety in Taiwan. It is not just the people's health that is at stake; Taiwan's reputation has also been compromised.
We used to jeer at China over its frequent food scares, as if nothing of the sort would occur here in Taiwan, which has been well known for its rich food culture, epitomized by the wide varieties of foods and snacks found in night markets.
The snacks in night markets may be as tasty as ever, but the recent food scares plaguing Taiwan have made us wonder what we have been really eating.
Maybe we are now becoming much closer to China - not politically, but in the sense that we have joined the club of rogue businesses looking for quick profits rather than quality.
We are not talking about some small underground operations selling substandard or even toxic food products to unsuspecting consumers. Rather, we have seen big companies lying, cheating and passing off poor and harmful products as quality ones.
The latest cooking oil scare involves a popular brand that has been a major supplier to restaurants and school kitchens. Some other big brands are also being investigated
Another scandal last month saw some major suppliers mixing low-grade imported rice with the staple grains grown in Taiwan, and passing them off as local, quality produce.
The big bakery scandal this summer involved a popular chain store that sold its bread at premium prices. But it turned out that consumers were paying high prices for artificial flavours instead of all natural ingredients as advertised by the bakery.
A few years back, Taiwan was hit by a major food scare when a major food additive supplier used plasticisers to make emulsifiers. Many major food firms were among its clients, and the rogue practice affected numerous consumers.
Consumers usually believe that brand name vendors, or major suppliers, can be trusted. But time and time again, this has been proven wrong in Taiwan.
And time and time again, it has been proven that the government is unable to defend consumers.
The latest outcome of the class action in the plasticiser case has shown that the authorities are way too lenient. A mere NT$1.2 million (S$50,520) in settlement means the penalty is far too small compared to the huge profits made from cheating consumers.
The government has two systems of certification for food: the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and CAS (Certified Agricultural Standards) by the Council of Agriculture.