A Tribute to Integrity in a Time of Decline
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
November 19, 2013
Summary: During a food crisis the public panics. But some companies within the industry are still quietly maintaining quality control. They still have consciences. They have earned our trust. Some government officials at the grassroots level are still conscientious. They are heroes whose efforts uncovered the truth. President Ma recently awarded King Star a medal. Let us not forget the unsung heroes in Changhua who contributed to our food safety.
Full text below:
The adulterated cooking oil scandal has raged for over a month. It has touched off a series of food safety crises that have yet to end. These crises have left the public with the feeling that they are living in a time of decline. Business ethics are in decline. Government efficiency is in decline. Consumer vigilance is in decline. Laws and regulations are in decline. Lawbreakers have nothing to fear. Amidst these concerns, consumers can rely only on themselves.
During this time of decline, the outrageous behavior of some companies has left people in shock. The companies include Chang Chi, Wei Chuan, Formosa Oilseed, Taisun, and Flavor Full. All of these manufacturing companies are well-known. Yet they engaged in deceit as long as they could get away with it. They lied through their teeth as long as could get away with it. Only when cornered, did they reluctantly apologize. They did not value the brands they built. They did not respect the consumers who trusted their products. They experienced no guilt over their lapse in business ethics. They have even refused to pay the fines the government imposed. How can companies such as this expect the public to forgive and forget?
Wei Chuan recently placed a large number of ads in the newspapers. It insisted that "It did not adulterate its products. It did not add adulterated oils. It too was a victim." It asked the court to make clear that Wei Chuan and Ting Hsin were "innocent victims." Its approach will only worsen the public backlash. True. Wei Chuan is not Chang Chi, the chief culprit, which did everything in its power to deceive. Wei Chuan did not intentionally adulterate its products. But to save on costs, it used Chang Chi as an OEM provider. Without careful quality control it affixed its own labels to the final products. Therefore how can it characterize itself as a victim?
Leave aside the question of whether Wei Chuan knowingly used adulterated ingredients. The Wei Chuan brand is sixty years old. It must introduce new products for a new era. It must meticulously control production for every one of them. Only that can ensure that a single mistep does not overturn the entire applecart. Only that can ensure that its products are not discredited along with those of its suppliers. Over 90% of Chang Chi's products were adulterated. Its name is mud. That is no big loss. A handful of Wei Chuan products have tarnished the image of the entire company. Was it worth it? Should consumers forgive Wei Chuan? That is not up to the pundits. But Wei Chuan has failed to offer a sincere apology and reassuring remedy. It persists in characterizing itself as a victim. This is truly unwise.
A company makes a rare misstep and suffers a corporate calamity. But look at the calamity from a different angle. Wave upon wave of scandals have struck, involving plasticizing agents, toxic starches, clenbuterol, adulterated cooking oils, and copper chlorophyllin. The real heroes are the companies that struggled long and hard to maintain the integrity of their brands. These companies must attend to every detail during procurement, quality control, research and development, and inspection. They must resist the temptation to rely on cheap, low-quality suppliers. They must constantly challenge themselves, sampling their own products, ensuring that they are 100% safe. Only by doing so can they survive wave upon wave of food safety crises.
Many companies on Taiwan boast about their integrity. But the food safety crisis has shown us the importance of meticulousness. Some manufacturers have cried foul. They have characterized themselves as victims. But if they had been meticulous, they would not have incorporated adulterated Chang Chi oil into their own products, merely to save on costs. They would have checked to see if the raw materials passed muster. That would have protected them from accusations of collusion. If they fail to provide quality products to consumers, how can they claim to be victims?
By the same token, government regulatory agencies were supposed to be the gatekeepers for food safety. But they were negligent. Serious lapses in food safety occurred. Four years ago, Spanish olive oil imports to Taiwan included other forms of oil. The Department of Health swept the matter under the rug. Two years ago, a National Science Council found that sesame oil sold on the market included soybean oil. People reported this. But the DOH had no intention of conducting a serious investigation. This is true also of the recently discovered adulterated oil. The Ministry of Health and Welfare charged the manufacturers with "false labeling" and imposed light fines. This was perhaps not a deliberate whitewash. But civil servants refused to investigate what they should have investigated. The administration is at the very least guilty of misconduct or negligence.
Fortunately the central government's failure to conduct proper food safety inspections was exposed by local government officials. The adulterated cooking oil scandal was exposed by the Changhua Health Bureau Food Safety Division and the Changhua District Prosecutors Office. They spent an entire year investigating the matter. Without this dozen or so people, consumers on Taiwan would still be ingesting adulterated cooking oil, artificially colored spinach noodles, and artificially colored green tea products. Cheng Chi-wen and Yeh Chien-cheng of the Changhua District Prosecutors Office prosecuted the clenbuterol and plasticizer cases years ago. These meticulous civil servants at the grassroots level worked hand in glove to plug food safety loopholes. They exposed companies that adulterated foods for profit. Their accomplishments put senior officials of the Ministry of Health and Welfare to shame.
During a food crisis the public panics. But some companies within the industry are still quietly maintaining quality control. They still have consciences. They have earned our trust. Some government officials at the grassroots level are still conscientious. They are heroes whose efforts uncovered the truth. President Ma recently awarded King Star a medal. Let us not forget the unsung heroes in Changhua who contributed to our food safety.
2013.11.20 03:20 am