Japan's Snow Brand Provides a Precedent for Taiwan's Food Safety
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 14, 2014
Executive Summary: President Ma has vowed not to allow blackhearted merchants to get away
with their crimes. But people can detect no real determination on the
part of the government. The government should take Japan's experience as
a warning. It should strike while the iron is hot. It should totally
revamp the Republic of China's food safety mechanisms, allowing Taiwan
to enter a genuine "food safety" era.
Full Text Below:
Food is a human being's first requirement. Food safety reflects a nation's level of civilization. It is also the basis of trust between the government and the people. Recently blackhearted merchants foisted rancid cooking oil on the Taiwan public. Many upstream cooking oil plants closed down overnight. Downstream food manufacturers were also affected. The scandal undermined Taiwan's image as a Mecca for gourmets. Food safety depends on strict enforcement and effective management, as well as morality and self-discipline.
Wave upon wave of food safety crises have erupted in recent years. They have revealed government dereliction in food safety. The division of responsibilities between the central and local government remains unclear, The laws have failed to keep up with the times and with technological progress. Under the circumstances, government oversight is confined to food stores. It does not apply to manufacturing plants or raw materials. Clearly Taiwan is still at the stage of "food hygiene" and has yet to enter the era of "food safety."
Many old line cooking oil companies were involved in the scandal. Clearly industry self-regulation resulted in giant loopholes. The industry acted as both player and referee in food safety. It reduced the GMP system to pro forma ritual. Many unscrupulous vendors made illicit profits by forging quality labels. The government failed in its role as gatekeeper.
Japan's experience in this respect is highly illuminating. Japan has long been extremely strict about food safety, In 1990 Japan experienced an entire series of food safety scandals. Japan endured a series of painful ordeals. For example: The Hokkaido Meat Hope Company was suspected of adding cheaper beef and pork into its products. They were packaged as a high quality beef and sold at a profit. Expired Hokkaido "White Lovers" brand chocolate was repackaged and sold to consumers. The upscale Japanese restaurant Senba Good Omen, recycled leftover food by repackaging it and selling it as fresh. As we can see, unscrupulous merchants are the same everywhere.
The factor that ultimately forced the Japanese government to amend its Food Sanitation Law was the Snow Brand Milk poisoning outbreak. Snow Brand Milk is a famous company, with milk plants located in Hokkaido. In late March of that year, a power blackout lasted three hours. Power was restored and production resumed. But the factory failed to discard raw milk infected with Staphylococcus during the power outage. Instead the milk was turned into low-fat milk products and sold. As many as 15,000 people in the Kansai region were poisoned. This was Japan's more serious case of food poisoning since WWII. The Snow Brand Company, with its 75 year history, became the target of a public boycott, and was forced to declare bankruptcy.
This event motivated the Japanese government to scrap the outdated Food Sanitation Law and author the Food Safety Basic Law. Japan officially entered the "food safety" era. The Food Safety Basic Law emphasizes oversight over the entire process, from the field to the table. It is preventative, transparent, and adaptable in nature.
One. It is preventative. It raised the status of government agencies in charge of food safety. Former departments were promoted to the level of cabinet offices. Cabinet Offices are equivalent to the Republic of China's Yuans. They were established under the Food Safety Commission, which consists of seven independent members. They include the Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Affairs. The Bureau of Affairs includes a Safety Assessment Division, a Message Announcement Division, and an Emergency Response Division. The seven members exercise independent powers. Their primary responsibility is food safety risk assessment and the prevention of food safety crises.
Two. Take the matter of transparency. Horizontal linkages between relevant ministries have been increased. Among the various ministries in Japan, the MHLW and Ministry of Agriculture are food safety-related. The MHLW is responsible for safety inspections of food additives. The Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for the safety of agricultural and aquatic products. The Food Safety Basic Law expressly stipulates that these two ministries must communicate with each other and promote interagency cooperation. Their main responsibilities are the management of food safety risks and the provision of information.
Three. Take the matter of adaptability. The Food Safety Basic Law is not static. Since its inception in 2003, it has been amended 15 times. For example, In 2008, the The Senba Good Omen scandal erupted. The restaurant served inferior quality, falsely labeled beef and leftover dishes to patrons. The law was amended to establish a food safety traceability system. Its purpose was to comprehensively and scientifically monitor the entire food processing chain. This would ensure the timely discovery of problems, the accurate identification of causes, the recall of problematic food, and the promotion of transparency in food safety. In other words, Japan's food safety laws changed with the times.
Japan's experience provides us with an example of comprehensive monitoring, from the field to the table, preventive measures, transparency of information, and laws that keep pace with the times. These measures curb blackhearted merchants and restore public confidence in food safety.
President Ma has vowed not to allow blackhearted merchants to get away with their crimes. But people can detect no real determination on the part of the government. The government should take Japan's experience as a warning. It should strike while the iron is hot. It should totally revamp the Republic of China's food safety mechanisms, allowing Taiwan to enter a genuine "food safety" era.
2014.10.14 02:07 am