Swift Justice for Unscrupulous Plasticizer Users
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 31, 2011
Apparently the degree to which toxic plasticizers have harmed the public is greater than previously imagined. They have been found not just in food, but in cosmetics. Food and cosmetics are commercial products. Unscrupulous businesses knowingly violated the law. Innocent people spent good money only to buy poison and damage their health. The government must severely punish those companies that engaged in such malicious behavior.
Health officials and prosecutors have investigated for days. The story behind the world's first case of plasticizer food contamination is becoming increasingly clear. The two main upstream "drug connections" were the Yu Shen Chemical Company and the Pin Han Perfumery Company. Yu Shen has been in business over 30 years. It is the largest supplier of toxic emulsifiers. The number of midstream and downstream industries affected is difficult to determine. Almost all domestic food industries, large and small, have been affected. Like the public, they too have become victims.
An inter-ministerial team is currently investigating. It has already discovered over 500 types of contaminated products. These 500 plus products, in turn, have affected other food companies. If hundreds, perhaps even thousands of food companies intentionally added plasticizers, then the safety of domestic food products is in serious question. But based on food industry reactions, the volume and cost of plasticizers used in the food manufacturing process is minimal, It is unlikely that the food industry intentionally added poisons and harmed people. Many of the food companies named are listed or highly reputable companies that have been in business for years. Amidst this turmoil, the government must quickly identify the flow of raw materials and assign blame. Some food manufacturers are innocent. The public must not be forced to constantly wonder what it can eat.
Yu Shen and Pin Han's evil deeds deserve universal condemnation. Five major product categories have been affected, including sports drinks and fruit juices. Even baby foods and health foods have fallen victim. Many purchasers of health food already have weak constitutions. Infants and young children are even more vulnerable. Those who sold raw materials containing plasticizers to these segments of the food industry deserve the harshest condemnation. How can these suppliers sleep at night?
There are 16 kinds of plasticizers. According to prosecutors, Yu Shen began using DEHP plasticizer a few years ago. This kind of plasticizing agent is metabolized by the body within a day or two. As soon as one ceases eating the problem food, one will be just fine. But Yu Shen over a period of at least 25 years prior to that, it used DOP, a more toxic plasticizer. This plasticizer cannot be metabolized and excreted. It accumulates in the body. These deadly toxins were actually added to legal emulsifiers that people put into their bodies. Companies violated the law. Their actions may not amount to murder. But they could be seen as attempted murder.
The plasticizer tempest has provoked panic among the public. The food industry is losing money. The storm has raged for several days. We now see which government agencies made mistakes and must be forced to improve.
First, the Health Department imposed stringent standards for many toxic substances. It stipulated that they "may not be added," and "must not be detectable." But the government cannot merely lay down the law. A law written on a piece of paper will keep the public safe. Otherwise, plasticizers would not have been found in thousands of food products.
First, plasticizing agents, environmental hormones, antibiotics, and chemical additives, must be prohibited by law. Then the government must conduct spot checks. It must engage in an ongoing battle of wits with opportunistic businessmen who deliberately seek out loopholes. It must do everything in its power to eliminate harmful substances from peoples' lives.
The EPD is responsible for poison control. Plasticizers are currently classified as class four poisons. Many experts and groups are hoping to reclassify them as class two poisons. Reclassification would enhance control efforts. Once the illegal industries have been uncovered, the punishments can be increased. The EPA has never had a positive attitude. Given its negative attitude, how can it respond appropriately to public demands for increased food safety?
According to a recent EPA investigation, among the 300 domestic sellers of plasticizer ingredients, 20 have not filed import and export product transaction reports. These 20 companies constitute less than 1/10th of the industry as a whole. But as long as a few kilograms of illegal plasticizer find their way into the food industry, the harm will remain unimaginable. If not for the current turmoil, these 20 raw material suppliers would have slipped through the net. The EPA must establish more rigorous inspection methods.
During the current turmoil, food companies and [channel operators?] have complained that the government lacks standard operating procedures. First it demanded that food companies submit reports proving their products were free of DEHP, Later it demanded that they be free of six kinds of plasticizers, But domestic testing capacity was inadequate. Food companies found themselves in a giant traffic jam. In the future the public will demand even stricter food safety and supervision. The government agencies' inadequate testing capacity must be addressed, as soon as possible.
The Mainland authorities are closely following the progress of the plasticizer turmoil on Taiwan. Mainland China's Supreme People's Court and the courts at all levels, punish criminals who endanger food safety harshly, in accordance with the law. The plasticizer incident has undermined the health of the nation, and the livelihood of food companies. Swift justice is one of the principles the government must ensure.