Five-point food safety policy protects public health

  • Date: 2016-10-11

I. Background

A series of major food safety scandals over the past few years—tainted milk powder, toxic starch, plasticizers in prepared foods and adulterated cooking oil—have highlighted the shortcomings of the domestic food safety management system, from manufacturing processes to product inspections.

As food safety has become a major public concern, President Tsai Ing-wen issued a five-point food safety policy during her 2015 presidential campaign. That policy’s five interrelated initiatives included the creation of a new toxic substance control agency, re-establishment of a farm-to-table production traceability system, and legal amendments to hold producers accountable and promote food industry self-management.

To help achieve President Tsai’s policy goals and take responsibility for national food safety, on June 23, 2016 the Executive Yuan approved a promotional strategy and action plan for a five-point food safety program proposed by the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW), Council of Agriculture (COA) and Environmental Protection Administration (EPA).

Under that program the government, vendors and the public will cooperate to establish a farm-to-table food safety system to monitor agricultural products throughout the production, manufacturing, distribution and sales processes so that consumers can rest assured that the foods they consume are safe.

 

II. Five-point food safety program protects public

The five elements of the overall food safety policy are:

A. Strengthen source control management:

Achieve comprehensive management of chemical substances and prevent environmental pollutants from entering the food supply chain by setting up a dedicated toxic substance control agency to conduct integrated cross-agency chemical flow analyses and control toxic chemicals at the source.

B. Re-establish the food production-management system:

Set up a food production traceability system that starts at the point of origin and provides a clear record of every stage of the production process; simplify the current certification labeling system and bring labeling standards into compliance with international norms; push food businesses to implement self-management and self-testing mechanisms, implement testing by an independent third-party institutions, and recruit food industry professionals; expand food traceability to make the relevant information public and transparent.

C. Strengthen government market inspection capabilities by a factor of ten:

Raise the frequency and rigor of government inspections; reinforce drug safety monitoring and random checks for farm, fishery and livestock products; promote self-management by food businesses and inspections by the government, step up inspections on high-risk products and expand the scale of joint inspections.

D. Increase liability for producers and vendors:

Amend relevant laws and regulations, including provisions regarding heavier punishments, increased criminal liability, joint and several liability, higher fines, and the confiscation and recovery of improper gains; urge vendors to implement rigorous self-management programs.

E. Encourage and create oversight platforms:

Allow all citizens and consumers to oversee food production processes in detail; increase rewards for whistleblowers and strengthen oversight over vendors of adulterated food products.

 

III. Implement five-point food safety policy measures to re-establish consumer confidence in food safety

A. To manage and control food safety at the source of production, the government will set up the Toxic and Chemical Substances Bureau under the Environmental Protection Administration by December 31, 2016 to integrate cross-agency chemical substance management and expand the scope of inspections. The bureau will also seek to reinforce inspection technologies, harmonize with international chemical substance management trends, and utilize cloud computing technologies to set up a cloud-based database covering all foodstuffs using big data analysis and forecasts to keep track of food safety information starting from the production source. The new bureau’s draft organizational act—greenlighted at a Cabinet meeting on November 3, 2016—has been sent to the Legislature for deliberation.

B. The COA has already established an origin labeling system for bulk eggs and a traceability system for domestic beef. Since a domestic fresh pork traceability system was launched in September of 2016, consumers can scan the QR code at each pork vendor’s stall with their smart phone and immediately obtain information about the source of the meat they are purchasing.

C. Since September of 2016 schools have been encouraged to use locally grown, organic and origin-traceable ingredients for student lunches. The COA will take charge of safety management and random inspections for fresh agricultural, fishery and livestock products to ensure food safety management is conducted starting from the source. The MOHW will be responsible for back-end manufacturing process inspections and management, and conducting random checks on processed, semi-finished and finished products for school lunches.

D. Nationwide joint inspections of night markets began in March of 2016, carried out in stages with preliminary visits followed by inspections. The first stage targeted popular night markets, with competent authorities visiting vendors to raise awareness regarding personal hygiene, environmental sanitation, utensil and equipment hygiene, ingredient sources and the recycling of waste cooking oil. Visits to 276 government-owned or private night markets in Taiwan were to be completed by October of 2016.

Second-stage food safety inspections by the MOHW have already been completed at 15 night markets in 10 locations around the island. In addition to checking whether vendors met food safety and sanitation standards, the ministry also investigated manufacturing sources of high-risk raw materials such as sauces, starches and cooking oils.

Third-stage inspections will be planned based on the results of second-stage investigations of high-risk raw materials, screening for food industry manufacturing sources not registered as such, those without previous inspection records or any record over the past two years, and those that failed to meet regulatory standards during previous spot inspections.

E. Prior to the Mid-Autumn Festival on September 15 this year, the MOHW and the COA supervised local governments to step up inspections of manufacturers, sales channels and gathering places to ensure that traditional seasonal foods such as moon cakes and their fillings, as well as barbecue-related foodstuffs comply with hygiene and safety management regulations.

F. The Executive Yuan has already issued a directive to the relevant government agencies to shore up service supporting the national food safety and informant hotline number (#1919), increase rewards for whistleblowers so that all citizens can participate in food safety monitoring, and step up communication with the public to enhance citizens’ confidence in food safety.

 

IV. Conclusion

As public awareness of health issues increases, making food safer will not only protect the health and safety of Taiwan citizens, but also contribute to upgrading the food industry. By implementing these five interrelated food safety initiatives, the government will ensure that every link in the food supply chain—from farm to table—meets safety and environmental protection standards. In addition to helping the public enjoy their favorite foods with confidence, these measures will boost the quality and competitiveness of the domestic food industry and burnish Taiwan’s reputation as a gourmet paradise.