Taiwan

Taiwan opens food safety office in wake of latest ‘gutter oil’ scandal

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Wei Yin-chun, who controls Ting Hsin International Group, was arrested for alleged food offences last month
Wei Yin-chun, who controls Ting Hsin International Group, was arrested for alleged food offences last month

Related tags: Food safety, Food

Hit by a succession of high-profile recent scandals involving industrial oil used in food processing, Taiwan’s government has launched a food safety office as a means to quell public outrage and tighten control of the industry.

The new office will co-ordinate food safety management between government departments, especially to crack down on substandard food products across the island.

Staffed by 20 officials taken from the health and economic affairs ministries and agriculture council, the new department is an extension to the government’s former food safety promotion task force. 

Legal backing

The prosecutor’s office has agreed to lend lawyers to act in court, said Chiang Been-huang, who assumes office as chief of the health and welfare authority, will supervise its practices. 

Food safety issues are ultimately handled by the Ministry of Justice; the supporting prosecutors will assist us in communicating with the justice-prosecution system in the future​,” Chiang said.

It is generally a central command for other front-line government departments, like the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Council of Agriculture. The entire food safety system will be able to operate on a brisker pace​.”

Taiwan has been in the grip of fear and anger since a major cooking oil producer was exposed as having made lard with recycled oil from kitchen waste and industrial grease in September, leading to the resignation of former health chief Chiu Wen-ta.

As for the underground factories that are out of [our] reach, the National Police Agency will be in charge of investigations and the ultimate clampdown​,” said Chiang. 

The new office's final goal is to prevent [food scares] from happening, and we hope that tainted food production won't happen again. If it does, the office will be there to cut down the damage​.”

Nation rocked

This month another food scare has engulfed Ting Hsin International Group, known for a number of brands including Master Kong instant noodles, after two of its subsidiaries were found to have used animal feed in cooking oil.

The spiked oils will cost Taiwan’s food industry $517 million, an official news agency reports, and Wei Yin-chun, Ting Hsin’s billionaire backer, apologised this month and said he would take responsibility for the affair.

Wei, who was charged last year over a separate incident in which a subsidiary was accused of mislabeling the contents of olive and grape seed oil to increase prices, heard a court order his detention over the cooking oil scandal.

His firm has promised to leave the cooking oil market and donate US$98.7m to set up an independent food safety oversight body.

Related topics: Policy, Food safety, South Asia

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