68 Wei Chuan oil products removed from market in latest scare

68 Wei Chuan oil products removed from market in latest scare

Wei Chuan Foods, a division of the Ting Hsin Group, is recalling 68 different edible oil products from the market after it was disclosed that they have been adulterated with cheaper oils intended for use in animal feed.

The Health Bureau of Kaohsiung City disclosed Thursday that from mid-February to May this year Wei Chuan purchased oil from Hsin Hao Company that has found to be a mixture of edible oil and lower-quality oil. The health bureau said that the company had been refining problem oil from Cheng I since February and using it in a total of 37 types of oil, and it had also been using oil supplied by Cheng I before February 25 to produce 31 other oil products. All 68 types of oil have been ordered removed from the market by health authorities.

Deputy Minister Hsu Ming-neng of the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) said Thursday that from February 25 to October 8 Hsin Hao supplied 37 different oil products to at least 230 downstream users in Taiwan’s food industry. In addition, inspectors from the Kaohsiung Municipal Health Bureau have found five storage tanks containing a total of 479 tons of unrefined oil on the company’s premises. Prosecutors are now working to trace the source of raw materials delivered to Cheng I and to determine whether any other food producers have used the problem oil.

Acting Director Chiang Yu-mei of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of MOHW notes that the Food Safety and Health Management Act stipulates that anyone found found guilty of producing and marketing adulterated oil may be sentenced to up to five years in prison and a fine of no more than NT$8 million. The FDA has requested more information on Hsin Hao and the charges against the company from the Tainan District Prosecutors Office (TNDPO) and asked the TNDPO to keep it informed on subsequent actions.

General manager He Yu-jen of Cheng I has admitted that his company has used oil supplied by Hsin Hao to produce lard oil and other oil products but denied that he knew that the products contained animal feed oil. He insisted that Cheng I had the oil tested and found that it met all standards.

Opposition legislators have lambasted the government for its failure to act earlier on recall of the Cheng I products, saying that health authorities have been alert to the possibility of problems with the oil for months and should have issued an order to have them removed several weeks ago.

Meanwhile the Ministry of Education has revealed that three types of oil including Wei-li Refined Oil, Wei-li Fragrant Oil and Cheng I Lard Oil have been used at a total of 37 schools in Taiwan, including 24 elementary schools, one high school and 12 colleges and universities.

The earliest inkling of the latest wave of ‘gutter oil’ problems came in January last year when prosecutor Chou Meng-hsiang ran into a dead end in an investigation of a case involving "Little Bee" waste oil recycling. The case sat idle until September this year when a spill of rancid oil occurred during a heavy rainstorm in Tainan. Following the oil trail, investigators found that the Tungsheng Green Energy Company of Kuanmiao District in Tainan and the Hsin Hao Company of Niaosung District in Kaohsiung were doing more than NT$20 million of business in edible oils yearly, sparking their interest in just what Hsin Hao was selling.

They found that 51-year-old Wu Jung-ho, a former Director of Sales at Cheng I, left the company in 2004 and purchased the Tengfeng Energy Company in New Taipei City in 2009. He renamed the firm Hsin Hao Company and moved its operations to the Niaosong area of Kaohsiung in 2010. The property consisted of a franchise for oil sales and distribution but had oil processing equipment other than a few storage tanks.

Wu Jung-ho obtained animal feed oil from the Chiu-feng Oil Company of Hsinkang Township in Chiayi County and the Tsu-tong Trading Company of Chin-hung Township in Yunlin County, as well as lard from an underground lard factory in Chiu-ru Township in Pingtung County. The oil and lard were packaged and marketed to food producers under the Cheng I label.

Prosecutors have established that Chiu-feng mixed animal feed oil imported from Southeast Asia oil and lard from underground suppliers with edible oils on the Cheng I premises. These were sold as 2.4-liter and 18-liter cans of Wei-li Refined Oil, Wei-li Fragrant Oil and Cheng I Lard, 15-kg barrels of lard and 180-kg drums of refined lard which were repackaged and sold as 68 varieties of oil and sold to restaurants, night markets and chain stores throughout the Taiwan market.

Prosecutors suspect that Hsin Hao purchased animal feed oil and sold it without any processing to Cheng I. They note that Cheng I has many years of experience in handling oils and find it hard to believe that Cheng I was not aware that it was actually buying products which contained animal feed oil.

Downstream manufacturers have said that oil products obtained from Cheng I had been tested and approved, thus prosecutors suspect that Cheng I blended the animal feed oil with other ingredients to produce ‘edible’ oils and lard that would meet food standards.

Available records show that in 2012 Hsin Hao sold 1376 tons of animal feed oil to Cheng I for more than NT$41 million and totted up sales of 424 tons from February to May this year for more than NT$13 million. One conservative estimate puts profits for the two periods at more than NT$5 million. The figures do not, however, include any records for 2013.

Wu Jung-ho initially denied that Hsin Hao had sold animal feed oil to Cheng I but changed his testimony after prosecutors showed him invoices from Chiu-feng and Chin Hung that clearly indicated purchases of animal feed oil. Even after admitting to having sold the oil Wu remained evasive in his answers to prosecutors’ questions, and he is currently being held incommunicado as the investigation continues.

With consumers turning a leery eye on virtually every brand of oil on the market after repeated waves of scares and scandals involving food products, many food outlets have resorted to producing their own oils to ensure that they will not be snagged if any other problems are unveiled. Chefs at the five-star Grand Hyatt and other top-tier hotel restaurants are now refining their own lard from scratch to safeguard the health and peace of mind of diners.

Similar scenes can be seen in food producers like WHM, Li-hung in Keelung and Taipei Leechi, where workers laboriously turn out their own oils as managers document the process with cellphones and camcorders to protect themselves from suspicion.

The move is costly in terms of time and expense, but owners feel they have no choice. As Li Chang-fu, the boss of Li-Hung Bakery in Keelung explains, during the previous oil scare in early September she was unable to sleep for ten days. Now, she says, still more food materials are under suspicion. She has grown hardened and skeptical of both government and industry and has learned to rely on herself and her employees and no one else. As she notes, “I don’t trust anyone anymore.”
It was a different story at the Fullon Hotel, where executive A-ji (Yang Yan-ji) was caught completely off guard when the revelations about Cheng I began to come out. The chef went through a series of apologies and genuflections last month after the Chang Guann scandal broke, and now he says he has been done again by a food supplier that he placed his trust in. In a press conference Thursday the chef said Wei-chuan’s executives should be investigated and asked the group’s chairman, "How can you sleep at night?" He said the company must come forward to apologize and explain its actions.

A-ji pledged to destroy all inventories of tainted oil and switch to producing oil and lard in-house. Calling for an apology from the companies that supplied the animal feed oil, he complained, "I really feel very helpless, I do not know where to turn for help. Since this news broke out, I have been doing all I can to deal with it."

Updated : 2021-04-15 08:25 GMT+08:00