Taiwanese professor doubts food safety labels' legitimacy

TAIPEI, Taiwan - The Department of Health (DOH) recently ordered edible starch manufacturers to provide legitimate food safety certifications, a move that did not stop customers from wondering about the validity of such documents.

The policy comes in the wake of the tainted-starch food scandal.

Local food vendors, grocery stores, supermarkets and restaurants have put up the food safety labels. The DOH said stands and restaurants selling eight types of starch-processed products must provide certificates relating to the products. The eight products are tapioca, Taiwanese mega dumplings, yam balls, taro balls, flat noodles, tofu pudding, tempura and jelly.

Wu Chia-cheng (吳家誠), a chemistry professor at the National Taiwan Normal University, expressed doubt over the validity of the food vendors' certifications and slammed the safety documents as a "false move to calm customers, much like praying with incense and putting up protection slips secured from temples."

Wu stated that the "standard procedure" nowadays for food retailers following food scares is to present allegedly legitimate documents in an attempt to clear their names. Wu cited examples from the United States beef dispute, the plasticizer-infused beverage scandals and the recent maleic-acid additives incidents.

Labels Confusing: Customers

Customers in turn have reported that the labels are as confusing as they are abundant. Chen Xing-he, a John Tung Foundation official, voiced doubt over the validity of a noodle vendor's certificate regarding its whole wheat flour. Chen said the shop sold white, not whole-wheat noodles.

A housewife surnamed Lee said she saw food safety labels while buying ready-made grass jelly in a traditional market, adding that she was unsure whether the labels were valid or not.

Foundation Proves Labels Unreliable

The Homemakers United Foundation, a producer known for its safe diet and safe food-source stance, voluntarily submitted 29 of its starch-containing products for a DOH examination recently.

Two of the 29 products were discovered to contain the reportedly harmful maleic acid. Both had safety labels. Chairman Huang Shu-de (黃淑德) said "that the labels are (the government's) attempt the smooth things over."

The DOH has ordered all of its branches to conduct investigations into the legitimacy of food vendor certificates and food safety labels in order to ensure the documents do not become outdated, said an official from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Those retailers and vendors found to have unqualified products or falsified papers may be fined, the official added.

The FDA said it plans before the end of the year to develop policy which looks to separate industry grade additives from edible additives in future imports, said another FDA official.