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End the food scare, time for soul-searching

End the food scare, time for soul-searching

Taiwan has always been known for its tasty street snacks and scrumptious steamed buns, or xiaolongbao as they are often called. Tainted, unscrupulous foods never crossed the minds of consumers longing to chow down a big chunk of the stinky tofus sold on every street corner in Taiwan.

There was even a time when China was notorious for making fake foods, including the adulterated milk with melamine in 2008, and prior to that the cheap soy sauce made from human hair, which was manufactured using amino acid extraction process similar to artificially hydrolyzed soy sauces. These phony soy sauces consequently made their way into the bellies of consumers the world over.

Following China’s milk scandal, makers in Taiwan somehow got in on the act by producing tainted foods of their own, including beverages, bread and jam that use plasticizer-DEHP to replace palm oil in food and drinks as a clouding agent, all of which can result in developmental problems with children as it affects hormones. The scandal erupted in 2011. Taiwan’s reputation as a food heaven was further scrutinized by the subsequent cooking oil/health pill scandals in 2013, and then the unethical gutter oil incidents in 2014. Like a frivolous disease, the heat continues to burn this year with slews of tainted tea beverages that contain pesticides.

The list of food scares is so long that it challenges not only people's faith in Taiwan's food industry but also their ability to simply keep track of all the scandals. The fall to disgrace also serves as a symbol of the problems the nation faces.

So, what gives? Besides being a foodie’s paradise, Taiwan has always presented itself as a nation of “friendly people.” The night market scene in Taiwan is often considered a “must do” itinerary for visitors as the authentic Taiwanese experience in part stems from the image that these markets are run by honest, hardworking Taiwanese street vendors.

While it’s up to the government to crack down on illegal food practices, the almost endless revelations of food scandals have shown that Taiwan's problems are more deep rooted and profound. Dishonesty and easy money-making schemes seemingly plague Taiwanese society.

Some of the businesses caught in food scandals, such as the Kaohsiung-based Chang Guann Co. was found to have blended cooking oil with recycled oil, grease and leather cleaner. When caught selling the tainted product to its distributors last year, the company admitted to collecting waste oil from restaurants, including discarded animal parts, fat and skin in order to make more profits.

In a similar case, Ting Hsin International Group’s Cheng-I Food Co. was investigated over allegedly mixing animal feed oil with cooking oil and then selling it for human consumption.

In retrospect, moral virtues such as honesty, justice and consideration for others have taken a back seat. Greed has long overshadowed people’s conscience.

It is time for corporations to spend a fair share of their resources on 'doing good', other than on profit-seeking businesses. The rich and powerful have social responsibilities to play in a society where they are constantly been observed with a magnifying glass. They need to take the initiative and exercise self-control as part of their working guidelines.

Although the old saying goes, “wounds heal, but scars will always remain,” it’s never too late to turn back.

However stressful and arduous it may be for food makers in Taiwan make up for their past flaws, there is always a second chance on every turn.

It might also be the right time for food operators to begin soul-searching, and win back the hearts of consumers, to mend the damages done to correct course. This in turn will win the resonance of every boy and girl, web surfer, netizens, and the underprivileged across the wide spectrum.

Updated : 2021-09-27 00:28 GMT+08:00