Food safety requires proper oversight

 

Source:Taipei Times (http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2017/05/15/2003670601/2)

By Wu Chuan-feng 吳全峰

Taiwan’s food safety management system has gone through great changes following a series of crises and a three-tiered food safety quality control system has been set up, consisting of industry self-management, audited accreditation and validation units in addition to government examination and testing.

President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration has proposed the cross-ministerial “Five Links of Food Safety” program, which includes source control measures, production management, increased inspections, the imposition of heavy penalties and public monitoring.

While this system for managing food safety might seem complete, problems could remain, such as an overly complex control framework and insufficient risk communication.

Take the recent issue of dioxin-tainted eggs. The Food and Drug Administration was praised for announcing that thecontamination of eggs had been discovered and for removing thousands of kilograms of eggs from store shelves as a precaution..

However, one of the follow-up measures was that the Council of Agriculture decided to include testing for dioxins in the Council of Agriculture’s Certified Agricultural Standards (CAS), in a sign that the government has a fuzzy understanding of food safety inspections and food labeling certification.

First, the CAS label is not a legally required certification and companies in the food industry are free to choose whether to apply for it. Including dioxin testing in CAS certification would thus only guarantee that some businesses who specifically apply for the label meet the standards.

Guaranteeing food safety is one of the government’s responsibilities, so whether or not agricultural products carry CAS labels, they should still adhere to basic food safety standards and everyone should be able to consume them with no concerns for their health.

CAS labels certify “excellence” beyond basic food safety standards. The council’s inclusion of dioxin testing in CAS testing thus does not relieve the administration of the responsibility to ensure that all egg products are free from dioxins.

Perhaps it is due to time concerns that the government has talked less about verifying contamination sources and ensuring that egg products do not contain dioxins.

Yet another example is unscrupulous business owners relabeling expired nut and meat products. Businesses refuse to cooperate with inspections or respond to requests for interviews, thus the government is often unable to force them to cooperate and can only issue fines after violations have occurred.

In addition, while waiting for a formal verdict, there are no appropriate channels for the government to provide information to the public, including informing people about how a business has broken the law and which improvements it will be required to make.

That is why it is frequently impossible to set up the appropriate communication channels between the authorities and consumers.

Since consumers cannot learn about violations of law by businesses at an early stage, they must in part rely on the media to monitor food safety. That is not a positive development that would help the establishment of a transparent and accountable food safety management system.

Food safety management is a complex issue, but the management framework must provide a clearer division of authority and more information transparency. Without improvements, there is a risk that things would only get increasingly unclear and complicated.

Wu Chuan-feng is an associate research fellow in the Institutum Iurisprudentiae at Academia Sinica.

Translated by Eddy Chang and Perry Svensson