Are food safety issues behind us?

TAIPEI - As the issue of food safety has once again been put under the spotlight due to the contaminated oil case, a familiar attitude and approach to dealing with the problem can be detected in the government. The question is whether the same measures are likely to be effective this time.

After more food companies, including well-known food manufacturers, were reported to have used the polluted oil, the government called for a meeting to be held between central and local health departments within 24 hours to deliberate a plan to solve the problem. In addition, they also started thorough investigations to check the purchasing details.

Many officials also expressed their thoughts, saying that this kind of issue should not happen again and suggested that these companies should be punished harshly to prevent similar problems happening again. Some of them also pointed out that the law should be amended to set up a more secure regulatory system.

Although the government showed its efficiency in organising special inspection teams and giving all kinds of suggestions to figure out a more reliable system, they seems to forget that similar problems occurred not long ago.

At that time, the government also made efforts to deal with the problem and many officials also emphasised the importance of building a better system by amending the law.

In fact, the law had already been amended and related parties were also punished after the outbreak of the food safety issue last year. Yet the same problem occurred again and with more serious consequences - this time, the polluted oil has been used in final products in restaurants and stores, and potentially consumed by large numbers of people.

This situation brings up the question of why such problems have happened again less than a year after the previous incident. Especially as the government promised to protect consumers' rights and guarantee food safety through various methods. Why is the health of citizens once again being threatened by polluted oil?

In addition, the government also said that it was going to examine the regulation of the "Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP)" label last year. It did so, and made some alterations to prevent companies misusing the label. However, it seems that the alterations did not work effectively.

Of course, this issue is not only related to the government but also to the food companies. Wei Chuan Foods Corporation, which was also involved in the case last year, took a different approach and reported the problematic products immediately after the situation was exposed. It seems that the company has acted well, if it were not for the fact that the company should have set up systems to prevent this kind of issue after experiencing such problems last year.

Did the company try to make real efforts to guarantee its products' safety or did it just try to get by with modest efforts and apologise to the public? The answer is most probably the latter.

It would appear that a great deal more government and corporate determination is needed to actually put plans into practice and solve the problem as soon as is practically possible.