Taiwanese food imports under scrutiny despite all-clear from Australia

Taiwanese food imports under scrutiny despite all-clear from Australia
Namchow Chemical Industrial Co. Ltd. Chairman Alfred Chen presents official certification documents yesterday while denying importing questionable oil. He promised that all Namchow products are safe.

TAIPEI, Taiwan - Although the Australian government has confirmed that the beef tallow imported by Namchow Group "could be used in food," the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) remained suspicious and is conducting tests on Namchow's food products.

The reason is that there is a disparity between the Australian authority's statement and what is stated on Namchow's customs declarations forms. The FDA yesterday presented the form filled out by Namchow, which clearly marked the imported oil as "non-edible."

As such, the FDA has initiated a test on Namchow's food products, and test results will be ready on Monday at the earliest. Until then, Namchow's food products cannot be re-shelved.

The Australian Office in Taipei issued a statement Friday night saying that Australia's Department of Agriculture has confirmed that five shipments of beef tallow recently imported by Namchow were suitable for use in food production.

According to the Australian authority, a certificate issued by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) marked the oil as "For Industry Use," meaning it can be used in different industries, including the food industry.

The Australian Office pointed out that "This unfamiliar English usage may have given rise to some misunderstanding. 'Industry Use' is not the same as 'Industrial Use.'"

"We have told Taiwan authorities that the Department of Agriculture understands that, in this case, the goods were not intended for industrial use," the statement says.

The FDA, however, is not satisfied. Its personnel have been conducting an inspection at Namchow's factory for two days, checking all its customs forms.

The FDA discovered that five shipments of beef tallow were marked as "non-edible" in Chinese, and therefore the shipments must be tested and their components verified, said FDA official Feng Ruenn-lan.

Namchow's Lapse in Customs Declaration

According to local regulations, imports of food oil require the government's prior approval and inspection, while feed and industrial oils do not. By importing food oil without proper notice, namely labeling it as "non-edible" thus avoiding inspection, Namchow has in fact violated the law.

As such, the company will be fined "for sure" by the Taipei City Government's Department of Health, whatever the FDA's test results turn out to be, Feng said.

The government has ordered Namchow's food items be removed from shelves as a precaution. While the FDA believes the Australian authority's statement, it does not want to approve Namchow's products without first carrying out needed testing to ensure their safety, Feng said.

Of the 27 oil companies with asset values exceeding NT$30 million (S$1.3 million), legal action has been brought on against Ting Hsin Group, Cheng-I Food Co. and Chang Guann Co. Though Namchow is currently under investigation, the remaining 23 companies will all be examined in the future, Feng stressed.

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