Sunday, November 2, 2014

Cooking oil in Taiwan-A health hazard rather than a food adjunct?

"Food frauds do not recognize any borders and fraudsters are not confined to any particular country. Whether it in the US, China, India or any other country, food adulteration and imitating reputed  food products, especially high value ones or high volume ones are fairly widespread though the number of cases may vary from country to country. One vital difference that is noticed in detecting and punishing fraudsters is that a country like the US has a good documentation system that gives accurate picture about such cases, in many other countries lax enforcement systems and undependable data make it very difficult to get any meaningful idea about the extent of frauds. Latest to emerge vis-a-vis food scandal is the widespread detection of cooking oil adulteration reported from Taiwan, a country with high reputation for its technological and economic development. Here is a take on this criminal practice in that country indulged in by a section of the organized food industry there. 

The series of incidents first came to light on 4 September 2014, when it was discovered that tainted cooking oil was being produced by Kaohsiung-based company Chang Guann Co. and branded as Chuan Tung Fragrant Lard Oil .The company was found to have blended cooking oil with recycled oil, grease and leather cleaner. The recycled oil was processed by an unlicensed factory in Pingtung County owned by Kuo Lieh-cheng, who allegedly purchased the oil from waste recycler Hu Hsin-te, whose factory is named Shun Te Enterprises, located in the Daliao District of Kaohsiung. Chang Guann purchased up to 243 tonnes of recycled waste oil disguised as lard from the Pingtung factory, starting in February 2014. The company then allegedly refined the waste oil before mixing it with processed lard and selling the tainted product to its distributors. The recycled waste oil was collected from restaurants, and included discarded animal parts, fat and skin. The President of Chang Guann Co. apologized to the public on 4 September 2014. He emphasized that his company was not aware and did not intentionally buy the tainted oil, and that the oil the company purchased from the illegal Pingtung factory was not cheaper than oil from other oil suppliers. On 11 September, reports revealed that in 2014, Chang Guann had also imported 87.72 tonnes of lard oil falsely listed for human consumption from Hong Kong-based Globalway Corp Ltd. that were actually meant for animal use only. Since 2008, Chang Guann had imported 56 batches of lard oil weighing 2,385.1 tonnes from Hong Kong, about 300 tonnes of which were purchased from Globalway Corp between 2011 and 2014. The Taiwan Food Good Manufacturing Practice Development Association (TFGMPDA) reported that the cooking oil produced by Chang Guann has never been awarded GMP certification, although the TFGMPDA issued an apology saying that five food companies whose products have won GMP certification have used the tainted oil. Schools around Taiwan pulled all of the products containing the tainted oil from their school meals after 16 schools were discovered to be using the adulterated oil products. Chang Guann was found in violation of the Act Governing Food Safety and Sanitation and fined NT$50 million.[3] Yeh Wen-hsiang, chairman of Chang Guann, was arrested for fraud for his role in the scandal. The FDA began indefinitely halting imports of edible lard oil from Hong Kong on 11 September. On 1 October, prosecutors revealed that after viewing lab results, Kuo Lieh-cheng admitted that oil he sold to Chang Guann Co. was mixed with corpse oil, gutter oil, grease and leather cleaner, and recycled oil. On 3 October the Minister of Health and Welfare Chiu Wen-ta resigned in the aftermath of the scandal.2014 Taiwan food scandal."

One wonders whether Chinese food entrepreneurs have a special knack in devising ways and means of making money through food adulteration and imitation, many times such foods becoming serious health hazards. One may recall the episode in Communist China where innocent kids were killed by adulterated baby foods containing melamine, an industrial chemical with high toxicity. Of course severe punishments were meted out to at least some of the guilty perpetrators by the government in response to international cries and indignation. Why such things keep happening even in a country like Communist China where dictatorial government is known to mete out summary punishments including death sentence is a mystery. Such a situation tends to diminish the confidence of the citizens regarding the safety of foods they buy from the market place. Whether one likes it or not eternal vigilance by the government and the citizens alike is the only solution and no amount of investment is too high in creating reasonably efficient and ruthless enforcement infrastructure in all countries.


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