Legislators pan MOHW for neglecting warnings on oils

Officials of the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) are being raked over the coals by legislators following a report that warnings from the government of Spain about harmful additives in edible oils in Taiwan were ignored by their predecessors. Former MOHW Directors Yeh Chin-chuan and Yang Chih-liang were both castigated yesterday for their failure to respond to the messages and order inspections of the factories involved in the allegations. Legislator Lin Shu-fen criticized the pair and the ministry for not acting to check out the possible presence of food products contaminated with carcinogens.

Minister of Health and Welfare Chiu Wen-tah appeared before the Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee of the Legislative Yuan Thursday morning to answer questions on an upcoming budget proposals and walked right into accusations that the ministry had dropped the ball on the reports from Spain.

Spanish authorities are reported to have said that major Taiwan manufacturers were adulterating oils and putting inaccurate labels on products, but Yeh and Yang are now claiming that they had no knowledge of the incident and that the messages were handed over to low-level officials at the ministry. Legislators are saying that if action had been taken now, many of the recently-uncovered violations in health food processing might have been averted.

Legislator Chao Tien-lin noted that news of the scandal concerning food products in Taiwan has already spread overseas. He urged MOHW to step up its factory inspections and measures to protect food safety, noting that it is important to check other food products like milk and soy sauce, but the action must be swift. He said that manufacturers cannot be given enough time to sell off their stock holdings and earn more dirty money through insider trading.

Chiu Wen-ta told the legislators that he had seen the documents in question when they were received and that the ministry had indeed checked out the plants reported to have been involved. He said that investigators took photos and that were sent to Spanish authorities. Chiu said the ministry had been diligent in following up on the reports and was working hard to combat illegal activities in the industry

Yeh Ming-ku, head of the Food and Drug Commission of MOHW, added that the ministry plans to conduct systematic and widespread investigations in the future to prevent illegal activities rather than simply responding to them as in the past.

He noted that Vice-premier Mao Chih-kuo is forming a joint investigation team of MOHW inspectors to map out a plan for joint action on violators of food safety rules. Also, President Ma Ying-jeou will preside over a food safety meeting on November 30 to review the Food Sanitation Management Act and address systemic issues regarding food security.