Black-Hearted Businessmen Fined a Mere 30 Million NT
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 27, 2011
A well-known energy drink, advertised as a health food, has been found to contain industrial plasticizers as an additive. Many young people drink it every day. Yet it may damage a person's reproductive system. The main culprit is the Yu Shen Company. It has sold its "black-hearted merchandise" on both sides of the Strait as well as overseas. Yet the government will only be fining it 30 million NT. The public is incredulous.
This toxic beverage incident originated with upstream suppliers, who adulterated the products with additives. The toxins flowed down the supply chain, spreading everywhere. Ordinary people everywhere have been poisoned. The extent of the damage is difficult to estimate. It has affected not merely beverage manufacturers on Taiwan. It has harmed the image of products from Taiwan in general. It is a serious threat to the health of consumers. Supermarkets, superstores, and big box stores have taken them off the shelves. But this addresses only certain brands. We must get to the bottom of the problem, Some eating establishments add illegal plastizers to their drinks. Local health departments have a great deal of hard work ahead of them.
Prosecutors estimate that the Yu Sheng Company has been adding the illegal plastizer DEHP to their emulsifiers for five years, This is when the "sports drinks" and "health foods" era began. Motivated by greed, many beverage manufacturers hoped to reduce costs. They manufactured toxic beverages and are now paying the price. Not only have their reputations been destroyed, consumers have been harmed. These businessmen committed these horrible crimes. This is not something disclaimers that "We were victims too" can gloss over. Too many businessmen were irresponsible. Consumers should also consider getting back to nature and eating plainly. They should stop believing the myth of commercially packaged health.
One thing is puzzling. The Department of Health has ruled that foods may not contain additives such as phthalates. Then why are there so many known manufacturers of this illegal raw material? Why didn't the Department of Health discover this problem five years ago? Is testing by health officials nothing more than a formality? Is it nothing more than an obstacle to get out of the way?
This is a difficult question. But a heroine has already provided us with the answer. A Department of Health inspector named Yang has been relentless in her pursuit of the truth. When she tested an unrelated weight loss beverage, she discovered chemicals that should not have been there, After repeated analysis, she traced the problem to the suppliers of the emulsifiers. She turned the evidence over to prosecutors. Only then did they discover that even more beverages were affected. This bold and painstaking heroine deserves public plaudits. But she was a lone individual, surrounded by a callous bureaucracy that routinely engages in pro forma ritual, and by civil servants with no sense of responsibility. Food and Drug Administration Chief Secretary Luo Chi-fang technician praised this woman, who is also a mother, saying that "She could have pretended not to see. But she was unafraid to make waves." The words "pretended not to see" sums up why a toxic beverage could remain undiscovered for five years before being exposed.
This heroine did not expose only "black-hearted" business tycoons. She also exposed a motley crew of business opportunists. She made it impossible for indolent officials to run for cover. How many questionable products were submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for inspection over the past five years? Just one aggressive and responsible inspector would have been enough to identify the problems in advance, and reduce the number of people harmed. Given such omissions, the Department of Health and the Executive Yuan cannot "pretend not to see."
Due to indolence, food inspections have not improved. Food regulations have lagged behind, also to the point of absurdity. Recently CAS approved meat products that were part of school lunches, were found to contain banned substances. The Department of Health merely fined the culprits six to 30 million NT. The current toxic beverage incident has impacted a wide range of food products. Its impact is far-reaching. Yet according to the Food Sanitation Law, the government can only impose a maximum fine of 30 million NT. The law is a dinosaur. It is totally inadequate to deter "black-hearted" businessmen. Still less it is able to act as an effective sanction. How can it possibly safeguard public health?
The current toxic beverage incident is no less harmful than the Mainland contaminated milk powder incident from three years ago. In the tainted milk incident, the two people who manufactured the melamine contaminated milk powder were sentenced to death. Executives who manufactured the Sanlu milk powder were also given heavy sentences. By contrast, the government on Taiwan, which boasts of its democracy and rule of law, is imposing administrative penalties of 30 million NT on those who endangered public health. Is human life on Taiwan that cheap? Or are food laws on Taiwan still in the Stone Age, unable to catch up with social change? The situation is truly serious. If government agencies fail to act, who will assume responsibility for government compensation in the aftermath?
The devil in the details. The current toxic beverage incident tells the story. So many beverages advertised as healthy and natural, in fact contain toxic chemical substances. Consumers are tricked into putting these substances into their bodies. The heroine who exposed the evil-doers has earned our admiration. But the government's negligence has earned our contempt.