For its closing day on September 24, the event invited the model student of Taiwan’s food sector, I-Mei Foods Co. CEO Luis Ko to discuss the present situation of food safety in the country and to offer suggestions to upgrade the competitiveness of Taiwan’s agriculture.
Food problems are an extension of environmental pollution, Ko said. In the 1950s, farmland was expropriated at a low price to be converted into industrial use, while at the time environmental legislation was relaxed, leading to the mishandling of polluted water and other refuse. Heavy metals and chemical pollutants affected the soil and water for generations to follow, damaging the work of farmers and fishermen.
Looking at the issue from an international viewpoint, the development of agriculture and industry over half a century also changed the face of food safety in its wake, Ko said. After the Second World War, agricultural and food technology changed thousand-year-old food consumption habits to meet the demands of rapid population increases, Ko said. Yet, other technological changes posed a threat to the health of mankind, such as the excessive misuse of chemical fertilizers and animal antibiotics.
Ko said the impact of industrial development on the environment was significant, especially in the field of air pollution, so the harm posed by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) will continue to emerge and influence the food chain.
Apart from revealing the background to the food safety issue and criticizing the government’s wrong direction of penalizing small food and restaurant businesses, Ko also offered suggestions, saying the government should change its thinking and use education and assistance to replace fines and punishment for producers of agricultural, forestry, fisheries and dairy products. On the one hand, the scale of Taiwan’s agricultural production is too small, making it impossible to undergo the pressure of continuous testing and to pay heavy fines, while on the other hand it was impossible to end the historic problem of secondhand pollution by pesticides, making it unrealistic to have a zero level of pollutants in agricultural, forestry, fisheries and dairy products. There is a need to set realistic safety standards and even more important to have testing methods and residue standards conform to international norms in order to avoid being accused by trade competitors of setting non-tariff barriers to trade.
As to the design of laws regarding food safety, Ko said it was vital “not to just sit inside an office and write laws and rules,” but also to participate in upstream and downstream action, and to offer small food producers and restaurant businesses channels to respond to unfair regulations. Such an approach would lead to a “double win” situation for the authorities and for the public, Ko said.
Ko also suggested that Taiwan’s educational sector should follow the example of the United States, Japan, the European Union, Australia and New Zealand in drawing up teaching materials about food and environmental issues for use from kindergarten to secondary school. Students should also visit the countryside and have an opportunity to witness how hard farmers, foresters and fishermen work to produce daily food. This way, they would learn to value the resources of nature, Ko said.
The third edition of the biennial “Southern Taiwan Agriculture Forum” succeeded in inviting experts in counseling agricultural businesses from Japan, as well as well as Council of Agriculture Deputy Minister Chen Chi-chung and Kaohsiung City Mayor Chen Chu to discuss a wide range of topics from strengthening the competitiveness of Taiwan’s agriculture to the safety of agricultural production and the development of production technology.