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The leeway on Ting Hsin is only the beginning

The leeway on Ting Hsin is only the beginning

Just last Friday, former Ting Hsin International chairman Wei Ying-chung and six other defendants were found not guilty by the court for their alleged role involving tainted cooking oil, and other food products. The reason was that there was not enough evidence to support such a claim, saying prosecutors were unable to prove that raw materials for oil imported from Vietnam were not suitable for human consumption.

Wei, who controlled three subsidiaries of the Ting Hsin International Group, was indicted for violating the Act Governing Food Safety and Sanitation in October 2014 after investigators suspected the group of allegedly selling cooking oil mixed with animal feed oil.

But hark and behold, just when the mass public expected Wei to be punished for his wrongdoings, judges from the Changhua District Court instead acquitted Wei and other defendants. The court added that prosecutors did not have adequate evidence to prove that oil from its Vietnamese plants had lard sourced from sick and deceased swine.

This outcome left nothing but a bad taste in people’s mouths, who now have even greater misgivings about the nation’s justice system.

Moreover, the court ruling has since drawn critics from lawyers, politicians and netizens – not to mention the average public who already “greased their guts” with Ting Hsin’s dirty scrub.

While Taiwan has adopted various aspects of an American- and European-style legal system, it is not the same. Juries are non-existent (no jury trials), as judges are the ones that dominate court proceedings and determine the defendant’s guilt or innocence.

Not implying that the judges are being bought to overlook Wei’s charges, but many have pondered whether the government under the Kuomintang has intervened in the court case to help write off Ting Hsin’s criminal acts because the collusion between major corporations and authority figures in Taiwan is so prevalent.

The verdict on the Ting Hsin case is just a few of the many shining examples of how judges in Taiwan can let something of this magnitude slide without seeking the obvious.

Under the Act Governing Food Safety and Sanitation, the company already breached Article 15-7 for falsifying and forging their vegetable cooking oil when they tainted it with animal feed, where the law clearly stipulates that the “falsification and forgery” of food processing, packaging, labeling, documentation, export and sale are deemed in violation of the said Act.

Regardless whether prosecutors failed to provide evidence to support that the lard Ting Hsin used can be harmful to human consumption, the breach of Article 15-7 is a fact that even Wei confessed last year, although he blamed the incident on his subordinates for carry out the wrongdoings without his prior knowledge.

The not-guilty verdict was not only a shocker, but also beckons the public to speculate the complicated government-Ting Hsin tangle.

While tainted food scandals have never been much of a concern amongst the public six years ago (not that there isn’t any), the problem with consumers in Taiwan is that they are often apathetic over the subject of food safety – unless scandals are spread like wildfire through the local media.

But then, who can say for certain that tainted foods never occurred in Taiwan prior to the first wave of scandals in 2011, when a number of local businesses used plasticizers to replace palm oil in food and drinks?

The sad truth is that most people will continue to happily chow down shoddy foods without batting an eyelid, while unscrupulous vendors get away without feeling a ting of guilt.

Price competition is also one of the key causes to the problem, as big companies (even street vendors) generally lack the sense of responsibility to purchase quality raw materials from upstream suppliers, who often knew about problematic oil ingredients early on.

It’s a vicious cycle, and as long as there is supply and demand, Taiwan will not break free be from tainted foods in the foreseeable future – unless the government decides to step up its efforts to enforce food safety regulations (not to mention loosening a notch on the government-corporate tangle).

But until changes are made, consumers in Taiwan should learn to become the better judgment on what they eat, as depending entirely on the government (whoever runs next year) can be a tall order.

Updated : 2021-09-22 19:21 GMT+08:00