Tainted spices and medicine discovered: prosecutors

Affected spice products include pepper salt, ground pepper, curry powder and edible red food colouring
PHOTO: Tainted spices and medicine discovered: prosecutors

TAIPEI - Food companies and pharmaceutical factories in Central Taiwan were raided and discovered possessing products made with magnesium carbonate for industrial use, reported the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday.

The Changhua District Prosecutors' Office and local health bureau stormed Taichung's I Hsing Trade Company, and in the process discovered the presence of tainted goods as well as their distribution destinations.

Affected spice products include pepper salt, ground pepper, curry powder and edible red food colouring, ranging from household to commercial use, FDA South Management Center Acting Director Liu Fang-ming said.

Liu confirmed I Hsing had been manufacturing products using industrial magnesium carbonate from 2012 to 2014, and reported the company had begun business dealings with Chin Hsing Hang Factory, Chin Hsing Company and Chen Ching Factory since 2003.

Officials believe that I Hsing wanted to benefit from the price difference by selling industrial magnesium carbonate rather than products made with food-grade magnesium carbonate.

Chin Hsing Hang Factory had produced 21 products, affecting at least 200 downstream vendors in 15 cities and counties.

Investigators discovered 10 products being distributed by Chin Hsing Company, which supplied 70 downstream vendors in 16 cities and counties. Chen Ching Factory produced eight items, distributing them to 11 vendors in three cities and counties.

The three manufacturers were ordered to cease the distribution of all problematic products, the Health Bureau said. Officials said investigators are beginning to track downstream vendors in the affected areas.

Companies could be fined NT$30,000 (S$1,317) to NT$3 million according to the Act Governing Food Safety and Sanitation.

Tainted Drugs and Medicine

Reports indicate that pharmaceutical companies have also used industrial magnesium carbonate in producing medicine as well as talcum powder and stomach powder, according to officials in Changhua.

Authorities have seized stockpiles of problematic medicine and will conduct examinations. Penalties will be finalized once results come out.

The FDA's Medicinal Products Division Deputy Supervisor Tai Hsueh-yung said they are still not clear about how many products have used industrial magnesium carbonate, or which hospitals and clinics are utilizing such problematic medicine. The investigation will proceed according to the Pharmaceuticals Affairs Act.

Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital Division of Clinical Toxicology Director Yen Tsung-hai said food-grade magnesium carbonate is low in toxicity, and is quickly metabolized by the body.

Yet, the ingredients in industrial magnesium carbonate are not entirely pure, which could include heavy metals residue that could be harmful to one's health, Yen said.