At the meeting of Taiwan’s Executive Yuan’s task force on the recycled waste oil scandal, Vice Premier Mao Chi-kuo directed government agencies to explain to the public their actions and response measures to the crisis. Agencies must make clear how upstream companies and mid- and downstream businesses will be handled, announce the progress of those efforts, and explain all follow-up measures, he said.
The special task force was established on September 5 after a Cabinet meeting to address the latest food safety scandal, which arose from the illegal sale of recycled waste oil. Premier Jiang Yi-huah said the task force will implement food safety mechanisms and handle follow-up matters related to this case. Vice Premier Mao was appointed to lead the task force with assistance from Minister without Portfolio Chiang Been-huang.
Selling tainted lard oil as cooking oil is a violation of the Act Governing Food Safety and Sanitation, Mao said, and such adulterated or counterfeit foods should be removed from store shelves immediately. Authorities will not relent in prosecuting the perpetrators and will mete out severe punishments.
As for public concerns about the test results of the tainted oils, Mao said he has instructed the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) to consult experts and scholars as soon as possible.
“The government is open to the public’s criticisms and suggestions,” said the vice premier.
The MOHW stated that the 235 downstream manufacturers that had purchased oil from Chang Guann Co., Ltd. have all been checked and inspected. Some 213 of their product items have been found to contain tainted lard, while the rest of the tainted oil has been sold further downstream to 1,020 businesses. All these businesses have been asked to expediently recall problematic products. Meanwhile, the MOHW will continue its investigations, pursue leads, and initiate measures to monitor and destroy tainted foods.
Regarding affected products that have been exported overseas and could compromise Taiwan’s culinary reputation, the MOHW stated that it has provided information to the relevant countries and will help the local downstream manufacturers to remake their products. The MOHW will also accept applications for certification to help these businesses sell their products overseas.
As for confiscating and freezing the assets of the suspects in the case, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) stated that prosecutors are currently investigating the accounts of the companies and individuals associated with the alleged crime. The MOJ will keep these assets in custody in case the court orders that the illegal gains be confiscated.
According to the MOJ, the case surfaced in November 2013 when citizens complained to the Pingtung District Prosecutors Office about an underground factory violating the Water Pollution Control Act, the Air Pollution Control Act, and the Act Governing Food Safety and Sanitation.
The case was promptly assigned on November 27 to prosecutors, who led an investigation by the Pingtung County Police Bureau’s civilian cases team. Upon detecting suspicious activity at the factory, the prosecutors formed a special task force with the Environmental Protection Administration to conduct further investigation, sending more personnel to conduct surveillance and collect evidence.
In August this year, the investigators had determined the oil delivery times and routes, the identity of the factory owner, and the key facts of the crime, after which they requested and obtained search warrants. Searches were carried out on September 1 on 11 suspected sites with assistance from health and environmental officials from Kaohsiung and Pingtung counties. Authorities seized large amounts of evidence and issued subpoenas to suspects and witnesses. This was by no means a case of government negligence of public health due to confidentiality of investigation, the MOJ said.
The Council of Agriculture said that it asked Pingtung County agricultural officials on September 5 to investigate animal feed maker Ching Wei Co., which allegedly purchased oil from the suspect factory. That same day, agricultural officials sealed Ching Wei’s oil products and collected samples for testing. Authorities are now tracking down where the tainted goods may have been sold.
The Ministry of National Defense reported that Chuan Tung and Ho Chiang “fragrant lard oils” are no longer for sale, and other products that are under suspicion will also be immediately taken off store shelves by the army’s non-staple supply service centers.
The Ministry of Education said that it had already instructed all schools to get rid of any oils or related products that have been identified for removal, keep records of the oils they use, and autonomously manage and run checks on companies that cater to the schools. The ministry also demanded that schools inspect any foodstuffs before accepting them as well as designate a staffer to keep abreast of all relevant information.
The Executive Yuan’s Department of Consumer Protection stated that it has set up a special web section dedicated to the substandard lard oil incident and has asked local consumer protection authorities to tabulate the number of complaints stemming from implicated goods. The department has also requested distributors to provide refunds to customers who bought products containing these oils.