Maoli found repackaging starch with maleic acid

Agents from the Tainan District Prosecutors Office raided Maoli Industrial on Tuesday and discovered some 450 tons of starch suspected of containing maleic acid stored in a locked warehouse 300 meters outside the company’s production compound. If sold on the market the supply of starch could have netted more than NT$10 million for the company.

Prosecutors found evidence that Maoli has been taking returned starch products and repackaging the contents – sometimes under its own brand and even using the brand names of its competitors in some cases.

A search of Maoli facilities in May turned up 32 tons poison starch at the company’s plant in Shanhua District of Tainan City. The company was fined NT$120,000 by the Tainan Health Bureau and ordered to destroy the toxic starch, Instead, Hsu apparently moved the problem starch to the off-site warehouse, and the company turned to mixing both new and old stocks and distributing it to re-sellers all across Taiwan.

Prosecutors detained Maoli president Hsu Tung-ming along with an accountant and two temporary workers for questioning.

During earlier investigations Hsu Tung-ming reportedly claimed that the flour was intended for sale to a local paper factory to be used in manufacturing paper and was never sold to local night markets. On Tuesday Hsu was said to have admitted that the company was repackaging and selling the stocks it had been ordered to destroy. He reportedly told prosecutors, "I'm not willing to throw away over ten million (NT) dollars in goods, it’s such a waste to destroy it."

Hsu said the company’s business had plummeted after the scandal broke in May and he had little choice. He said the re-packaged starch was sold at less than half the market price, at NT$111 per kilogram. Prosecutors believe that at least fifty-five tons of the tainted starch have already entered the market.

The second round of investigations for maleic acid-laced starch began in mid-June of this year when the Tainan City Health Bureau instituted comprehensive inspections of the local market. In October a check on a vendor selling fermented bean curd chicken in the Dadong Night Market in Tainan found suspicious starch. Tests showed a maleic acid content of 800ppm, and a quick investigation revealed that the starch in question had come from Maoli.

Adding maleic acid to starch yields products with greater elasticity, and unethical businesses have used the starch to make products such as tapioca balls, rice noodles, meatballs, dou-hua and other popular foods.

Lin Ja-liang , a nephrologist at Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, says that maleic acid is an industrial material and consumption by humans can lead to damage of renal tubules in the kidney. Lin recommends that maleic acid be treated in the same category as plasticizer in order to give health authorities better leverage in controlling use of the compound.

Revisions of the Food Sanitation Management Act since the May outbreak have specified more severe penalties for fraud and dangerous practices involving food products, and Hsu Tung-ming and Maoli could be facing penalties of as much as up to three years in prison and NT$15 million in fines.