TAIWAN - President Ma Ying-jeou demanded severe punishments be dealt out in the latest food scandal involving tainted cooking oils yesterday, while calling upon the government to be vigilant in bringing all unscrupulous foodstuff manufacturers to justice.
Ma issued the remarks in the Kuomintang's weekly meeting, following a report delivered by Ministry of Health and Welfare's (MHW) Deputy Minister Lin Tzou-yien on food welfare-related policies that face broad overhaul after Tatung Changchi Foodstuff Co. was discovered to have produced tainted goods with false labels.
"It is difficult for the minority to keep an eye on the majority, but easier to succeed (in uncovering causes of fraud) when it is the majority that is inspecting the factories," said Ma, who asked the nation's health bureaus to handle food safety issues with grave concern.
"All the health bureaus should conduct strict inspections, deal out severe punishments to dishonest manufacturers and remove the tainted products from stores," Ma said. "If necessary, we should apply for more assistance and a bigger budget to monitor the factories in the long run."
The president noted that food safety is an issue that has plagued Taiwan for some time; the government must do its best to ensure that people can shop for food without fear.
After acknowledging that doubts have been raised among the public over whether the government had sufficient personnel to investigate food factories, Ma indicated that the MHW must take inventory of itself to assess any shortages of manpower, and advise the public regarding any food safety issues.
"People ought to select merchandise carefully and report to health bureaus immediately when the products are found peculiar," Ma said.
Although food safety problems are not unique to Taiwan, the nation must remain vigilant in reining in the issue, and prevent it from becoming "commonplace," Ma added.
Activists Slam Law for Inadequate Fine
Local consumer watchdogs slammed the recently amended Act Governing Food Sanitation for what they claim is an inadequate fine for fraudulent food manufacturers, the topmost fine being NT$15 million (S$631, 500) - unsatisfactory in Changchi's case, they claim.
"The mere NT$15 million would seem like nothing compared to the several billions of New Taiwan dollars (the firm) had earned," the activists said.
Changhua County Public Health Bureau (CCPHB) Chief Yeh Yen-bo pointed out that the company had already been fined NT$2.86 million for false advertisement and impure ingredients, and if the investigators discovered that Changchi was also guilty of mixing coarse cottonseed oil - which is hazardous when consumed - the additional fine of NT$15 million would bring the total fine to over NT$40 million.
The fine of NT$2.86 million is by far the heaviest fine for violating food safety laws in Taiwan's history.