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More firms suspected in tainted oil scandal
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2013-10-29 06:03 PM
How many more ‘black heart’ domestic oil producers are still lurking outside the nets of government investigators? Even as the investigations of Tatung and Flavor Full in Changhua continue to gain traction, the Ministry for Health and Welfare (MOHW) is having trouble identifying standards on which to base charges against the two suppliers. Agents have already established that Tatung was adding copper chlorophyll to its olive oil products, but because China National Standards has not set a benchmark for the additive, MOHW has not published the results of its tests. In addition, another 30 suspected oils and fatty acids have been singled out and referred to the Ministry of Justice for further action, but again the ministry has not made the list public. This leaves outsiders wondering why the ministries and agencies are so reluctant to disclose their findings.

MOHW notes that the Food and Drug Agency has already carried out 166 inspections of large domestic edible oil producers and has completed testing of 196 of 271 samples retrieved to date. Of these samples 30 of the 88 fatty acids which have been tested have been found to be "not in full compliance" with regulations, including 25 which were domestically produced and five imported samples. A joint team from the Ministry of Justice and local health authorities will conduct further investigations to identify problem products.

Other reports are saying that agents have discovered well-known brands of olive oil suspected of containing copper chlorophyll. Informed sources say that government agencies have a list of specific manufacturers but are not making the information public yet, leading some to fear the possibility of a cover-up.

Wang Che-chao, Director of Public Relations for MOHW, notes that current inspection procedures in place at the ministry are aimed mostly at determining the fatty acid ratio in edible oils. At present there are no approved standards for copper chlorophyll, and the ministry relies on local health authorities to go to the oil producers’ plants to understand the situation on-site.

Wang explained that investigators have found indications that oil producers have been adding certain amounts of copper chlorophyll, and health officials are looking for evidence in the formulations for oils at various companies. Because these oils are primarily imported, however, investigators must also determine the contents of the imported oils used in the formulas. He emphasized that MOHW is continuing with its investigations and tests and is not attempting to hide any of its findings or to protect any of the producers involved.

The Executive Yuan has announced that effective immediately it is setting up a joint food safety inspection and control team led by Chang Shan-cheng of the Executive Yuan and including MOHW Minister Wen-ta Chiu and Council of Agriculture Chairman Chen Bao-chi. They will oversee the entire investigation of edible oils currently under way and will also guide relevant agencies in expanding monitoring of production and marketing of soy sauce, tea, milk, juice and other foodstuffs.

At the same time, customers of the WowPrime Group 's Yuanshao restaurants have been unnerved by the revelation that the chain’s filet mignon, priced in dinners at about NT$500 to 600, has tested positive for the ractopamine additive which soured relations between the US and Taiwan earlier this year. The discovery was made October 17, and on the 18th Yuanshao was informed that it would have ten days to remove the suspect beef from its food lockers. In the meantime, for the last ten days diners have been consuming the suspect meat with no knowledge that it might contain ractopamine.

On Tuesday reports emerged that there may be more oil processing companies that have been doing the same thing as Tatung in adding copper chlorophyll to their product. To date, however, MOHW has yet to release any information whatsoever about who else may be suspected of involvement in the recent oil scams. It has not issued warnings or even attempted to instruct consumers on how to avoid adulterated or dangerous oils. As a result, unknown quantities of ‘black oil’ continue to make their way spoonful by spoonful into the systems of consumers across the island.

The Ministry hesitates to take action, explaining that it must have on-the-scene evidence to make its case against the oil producers. They did seize a large quantity of copper chlorophyll at Tatung’s facility, publicizing that action enough so that even the dullest producer out there will have already removed any evidence of illegal or unapproved additives from their premises before any agents show up to inspect,

At every step from the plasticizing agents in milk powder to toxic starch to blended oil, MOHW has repeatedly vowed to ensure food security in Taiwan, but each time it winds up saying there just is not enough evidence. If the government finally moves to improve food safety by establishing a joint investigation team to address such problems, the first lesson the team will need to learn may be that as soon as a problem product is identified, it must be publicly disclosed and government agencies must act quickly to ensure that any and all affected products are removed from shelves and kitchens as quickly as possible.

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