Economics Minister Duh Tyzz-jiun yesterday said the recent tainted oil scandal has caused an estimated loss of NT$5 billion (S$209 million) - about 1 per cent of the nation's food industry's annual revenue.
During an interpellation session at the Legislative Yuan, Duh said the damage of the scandal to the reputation of Taiwan's food industry, however, is "incalculable". The reputations of the companies involved in the incident have been hit more severely than their earnings, the minister said.
He made the comments after the food safety scandal brought to light the fact that over 1,000 food companies and restaurants around Taiwan used oil products supplied by Chang Guann Co. - a domestic oil manufacturer that allegedly produced lard oil products made of oil intended for industrial use and oil recycled from kitchen waste.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Lin Tai-hua asked Duh if the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) has any plans to respond to mainland China's announcement that it will forbid imports from Taiwanese food companies involved in the incident.
In response, Duh said that the only consolation for Taiwan's image is that foods processed at home are mainly for domestic consumption and not for export, noting that the MOEA will offer assistance to Taiwanese food companies if they need help.
Kuomintang (KMT) lawmaker Wu Yu-sheng said that many people thought the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certification system guaranteed the safety of a food product, but actually it is the Good Hygiene Practice (GHP) system that demands that food products meet hygiene standards. Even if the processing of a food product meets the GMP standard, it cannot guarantee that the product is safe to eat.
Wu went on to say that it should not be the MOEA, which is responsible for the GMP system, that regulates the nation's food products. He urged the premier to combine the GMP and GHP systems and to focus on promoting the GHP system.
The lawmaker further argued that instead of allocating extra funds to the GHP or the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MHW) to promote food safety issues, Cabinet Minister without Portfolio Chiang Been-huang granted NT$80 million to the MOEA's Industrial Development Bureau (IDB) to promote the GMP system.
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In response, MHW Minister Chiu Wen-ta said his ministry has been promoting the GHP system after the Act Governing Food Safety and Sanitation was amended this February.
The MOEA said it will conduct a survey to consult public opinion on the GMP system in October. If the public thinks the programme fails to boost consumer confidence, the ministry will then consider scrapping the system, the MOEA said.
The health minister during the interpellation said that if he cannot guarantee that all tainted food products have been removed from shelves after two weeks, then he will bear the responsibility and resign from his post.
Chiu said there should not be any tainted food products on the shelves by now, adding that a nationwide food inspection will be kicked off today and be completed in two weeks.