No food safety no trade

Cheming Yang

In the most recent press conference held by the Taiwanese government, products contaminated with plasticizers were found to have been exported to 21 countries, including mainland China. At present, food products made in Taiwan (MIT) are under meticulous scrutiny in most countries that import food from Taiwan. MIT is the pride of Taiwanese people and now they are seeking desperately to restore consumers’ faith in it both domestically and internationally.

History tends to repeat itself or reverse its course. The incident of melamine contaminated dairy products in 2008 is almost the mirror image of this incident. Only last time, the contaminated food was exported from mainland China to Taiwan. Now it is the other way around. In that particular incident, an estimate of 300 thousand infants fall victims to melamine contaminated formula.

We depend on food to survive. The basic drive for trading is to exchange for food. Although food does not appear to be the most important part of international trade, it will definitely affect most people when food trading stalls. In the old days, people bartered for food and there were not that many varieties of processed food as there are today. In the manufacturing processes, contamination should be minimized but inevitable in practice. Contamination could happen accidentally or could be made happen intentionally. Unfortunately, in this imperfect world a lot of food contaminations are caused by wrongdoings, just like the incident at hand.

Generally speaking, food regulation unlike drug is based on post-marketing inspection rather than pre-marketing approval. Because food is so essential to our daily life and is around us everywhere and all the time, it is hard to inspect all the food before they are served or provided by the vendors or growers. Therefore, we are oftentimes forced to face intentional contaminations only after injuries caused by them have occurred. Although it is indeed difficult to police the whole market, the government still needs to come up with creative ways to pre-empt the moves of wrongdoers. For instance, even if premarketing approval is unlikely, pre-export approval is possible. With this measure in place, at least we can stop the contaminated food flow freely internationally and localize the damage without hurting international movement of food if harmful events do transpire.


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