Additive firms may get 30-year jail sentences

Deputy Minister of Justice Chen Shou-huang yesterday said manufacturers that put toxic chemical Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate in food additives could face a maximum of 30 years in prison.

"The Criminal Code stipulates that each offense is punished separately," he said. Therefore, if prosecutors press charges against the owners of the manufacturers in question, the owners could face a maximum 30 years in prison with all the offenses combined, Chen said.

Chen made the comments in a press conference held following a cross-ministerial meeting led by Vice Premier Sean Chen yesterday morning on dealing with the health concerns amid the worsening carcinogenic-additive crisis.

A growing number of products have been found to contain toxic chemical Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, more commonly known as DEHP.

Current Penalties Too 'Light'

Currently, violations of the Act Governing Food Sanitation (AGFS) are punishable by a maximum fine of NT$300,000 and a maximum of 3 years in jail.

The punishments are seen by many as too light and do not serve as a deterrence.

In response to the demand for heavier fines and punishments, Vice Premier Sean Chen, who hosted the cross-ministerial meeting, said during yesterday's press conference that the combined sentence could be as severe as three decades in jail.

Also, the maximum fine for violators will be more than NT$300,000 since related authorities can levy higher fines on those responsible since they have made illicit gains by selling the contaminated additives, Chen added.

Meanwhile, ruling Kuomintang (KMT) legislator Hwang Yih-jiau has also proposed a bill to amend the AGFS to increase the penalties for violations of this nature.

The proposal has been backed by the party, said Hsieh Kuo-liang, KMT caucus whip, yesterday in a separate press conference held in the Legislative Yuan. Hsieh urged the opposition Democratic Progressive Party to join hands in approving the proposed amendment to pass the bill before June 14, the last day of the legislative session.

Hsieh also proposed that manufacturers which intentionally put toxic chemicals in food additives or sell them even though they are aware of the potential threat should be indicted for homicide.

The ongoing crisis was triggered when a Food and Drug Administration inspector uncovered the presence of DEHP in a food supplement, leading to discoveries that it was also contained in sports drinks and dietary supplements in Taiwan.

The source of the contamination was traced to a food additive from Yu Shen Chemical Co. called cloudy agent, commonly used in fruit jelly, yogurt mix powders, juices and other drinks.

Police Raid 12 Factories

During yesterday's press conference, Deputy Justice Minister Chen Shou-huang noted that prosecutors in southern Changhua County, which are responsible for investigating the case, have already seized money from the company's owner, surnamed Lai, that he earned by selling the additives.

The move came after authorities received intelligence that Lai had withdrawn all his money from several different bank accounts following the incident. Prosecutors also seized Lai's assets.

Also yesterday, prosecutors in the county raided dozens of food and beverage manufacturers' factories that were found to be using Yu Shen's additive in their products.

A total of 12 factories, including facilities in Taipei, New Taipei City, Changhua County, Nantou County and Pingtung County were searched yesterday, the prosecutors said.

The raids were initiated to determine how many contaminated products are still available on the market, they noted.

Prosecutors said they will turn over all documents seized during the raids to the Department of Health (DOH) and the Bureau of Health of each city and county government involved.

The DOH will make public the names of these companies and demand that they recall and destroy all contaminated products, the prosecutors said.