Harsh Penalties Will Not Ensure Food Safety
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 24, 2014
Summary: Two rancid oil scandals have erupted. Consumers have had enough. The
only way to prevent rancid oil scandals is proper management. Recycling
mechanisms must be established on the basis of profit and loss. The
Ministry of Health and Welfare must co-ordinate its administration and
auditing, If it can impose fines, revoke licenses, and other
administrative sanctions, it can address the problem at its source.
Full Text below:
The rancid oil scandal has undermined Taiwan's reputation as a gourmet's paradise. The Executive Yuan has investigated and dealt with the scandal for nearly one month. The only action it has taken is to propose that night market stalls sign contracts with the "little bees" that recycle waste oil, and express hope that the Legislative Yuan will amend the Food Safety and Health Management Act and impose harsher criminal penalties, Apparently it is attempting to mollify populist sentiment by increasing criminal penalties. Apparently it hopes to divert attention from the government's responsibility. But if society considers the matter rationally, it will mot accept this approach.
This is not the first time a rancid oil scandal has erupted on Taiwan. On the eve of the Mid-Autumn Festival in 1985, the De Tai Oil Company acquired rancid oil at low cost from pig farmers, which they then turned into low grade vegetable oil. They mixed it with salad oil, and presto, lawful oil. This was sold to restaurants in the greater Taipei area. Thirty years later, food safety regulations have been totally revamped. Administrative and criminal penalties have been substantially increased. Yet a rancid oil scandal has erupted, yet again. The government should hang its head in ashamed.
A fair and impartial investigation of responsibility in the current food safety scandal is essential. The first line of defense was the Pingtung County Government. Yet it cavalierly igored the public welfare. The Ministry of Health and Welfare is responsible for food safety. The EPA is responsible for waste recycling. The COA is responsible for the management of feed oil. The Ministry of Economic Affairs is responsible for the inspection of registered companies and factories. All of them were indolent and derelict in their duty.
The root of the problem is slack management. Nobody wants to be responsible. After the recent outbreak, the Ministry of Health and Welfare attempted to set the tone by issuing a green light for food safety. It even dug up an expert willing to endorse its findings. "Ingesting one or two drops will do no immediate harm to the human body." Taiwan is no longer a society that seeks only a full belly and warm clothing. Food safety and health are a basic right. They can even be considered a national security issue.
Slack management can be divided into two categories. One. Recycling and environmental protection. Every rancid oil scandal over the past 30 years has been rooted in blind greed. Earlier this year, many pigs came down with diarrhea. The number of pigs plummeted. The price of lard rose. Illegal underground oil refiner Kuo Lien-cheng obtained large quantities of waste cooking oil from "little bees," then turned it into low grade lard which he sold for a huge profit.
The government has the necessary mechanisms to prevent such crimes. The Ministry of Economic Affairs is vigorously recycling waste cooking oil into biodiesel. But when oil prices stabilized, biodiesel policy became stalled. Large quantites of recycled waste cooking oil had nowhere to go. With profits to be made, they returned to the dining table, and into consumers' bellies.
The US, Japan, the European countries, and other advanced countries, have also endured waste cooking oil scandals. Painful lessons led to effective management models. Waste cooking oil recycling, processing, production, and marketing all have clear legal norms. Contrast this with Taiwan, where every night "little bees" collect waste cooking oil from night market stalls.
The EPA adopted Europe and US specifications in toto. It required snack bars and night market stalls to sign contracts with "little bees," entrusting them to recycle waste oil. The assumption was that county and municipal environmental protection bureaus would rigorously and control the process. Recycling by anyone other than a lawfully appointed vendor, cleaning company, or moving company, meant penalties. These were truly pie in the sky policies dreamed up by bureaucrats sitting in air-conditioned offices.
The so-called "little bees" are self-employed individuals dedicated to the illegal acquisition of waste cooking oil from night market stalls, vendors, and snack bars. They are like honey bees gathering pollen. An 18 liter bucket of waste oil can be legitimately recycled to make biodiesel. It can sell for 200 to 300 NT. The little bees purchase price is usually 100 to 200 NT per barrel.
Fleece can come only from sheep. The little bees' waste oil recycled at higher cost, is naturally sold to underground oil refiners and turned into higher-priced lard. Little bees operate on the fringes of the law. They are in business to make money, not lose it. If little bees could be persuaded to remain within the law, they would already be legitimate waste disposal companies, Why would they remain little bees? Can the government really control little bees, who flit from here to there?
In Japan all oil recovery is done by professional companies, then sold to the government at higher prices. The government commissions refiners to turn it into fuel for garbage trucks. Buying at higher prices makes it impossible for little bees to survive In Japan. Karl Marx said it best. "If capital can get a 100 percent profit, it will trample on all human laws; 300 percent, and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run." The EPA should reflect on the system for the disposal of batteries and the recycling of light bulbs, which have been around for years. On what basis can it gradually establish a sound system? The key is people are even willing to commit capital crimes for a profit. But no one is willing to engage in a money losing business.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare has been indolent and derelict in its duty. This has led to resource management blind spots. Its sole response to the scandal has been to urge the amending of the law and an increase in penalties. The underground rancid oil refining business is surely hateful. But food safety violations cannot be compared to the brutal murders on the Taipei MRT. To do so would violate the principles of democracy and the rule of law. It would merely underscore the incompetence of civil servants.
Consider the actions taken by government agencies during the recent food safety scandal. The COA finally imposed strict oversight of foreign oil imports and the registration of domestic manufacturing, The Ministry of Economic Affairs intends to assist cities and counties inspect all 202 companies with temporary factory registration for feed oil and edible oil processing. These moves were long overdue. They must continue to perform these duties. After the scandal erupted, the Ministry of Health and Welfare required county and city health bureaus to inspect products and remove them from store shelves. It passed the buck onto the manufacturer. It never implemented any preventive mechanisms. When condemnation from all walks of life reached new highs, it pandered to populist sentiment by calling for increased penalties. It never considered the pursuit of the public welfare. Compared to the judicial and legislative branches, it is clear that it must become more proactive and involved with the community, the economy, and other aspects of people's lives.
Two rancid oil scandals have erupted. Consumers have had enough. The only way to prevent rancid oil scandals is proper management. Recycling mechanisms must be established on the basis of profit and loss. The Ministry of Health and Welfare must co-ordinate its administration and auditing, If it can impose fines, revoke licenses, and other administrative sanctions, it can address the problem at its source.