Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program: Food safety

  • Date: 2017-08-03

I. Background

As part of the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program, the government has launched a multifaceted food safety infrastructure plan to strengthen Taiwan’s ability to ensure the safety of its food products. Intended as an additional mechanism to the comprehensive five-point food safety policy already in place, the food safety infrastructure plan will dedicate NT$3.133 billion (US$103.6 million) over four years (2017-2021) to bolstering Taiwan’s food safety capabilities in three areas: border inspections, local government audits, and the central government’s food safety incident testing and R&D capabilities.

 

II. Five subprojects to create a safe new world for consumers

A. Build a modern national food and drug laboratory building and training building

*Why? While laboratories are essential for food safety testing, the facilities currently in use are unable to meet growing demands, and many lab buildings were not designed to accommodate the newer types of state-of-the-art testing instrumentation. The government will therefore build a modern, national-level food and drug testing laboratory building that can support the nation’s food safety testing needs for the next 30 years. Employing integrated cloud information management, the smart green building will have comprehensive water treatment systems, biochemical contamination protection, constant temperature and humidity, consistent air pressure and air flow, cleanliness control, seismic resistance, and protection against magnetic interference.

*Benefits: When the lab building is completed, scientists will be able to shorten the time required for testing adulterated food products and emerging toxins, and develop stronger analysis techniques for new and potentially risky substances. The building can also serve as a base for strengthening food and drug regulations and training testing personnel.

B. Improve effectiveness of the border inspection rapid customs clearance system

*Why? Border controls are the first line of defense in keeping suspect food products and raw materials from entering Taiwan, and with the sharp increase in the volume of border inspections (from 400,000 cases in 2011 to 670,000 in 2016), a system-wide upgrade is urgently needed to make the cloud platform safer, more effective and easier to use. The Imported Food Inspection System installed in 2010 also requires software and hardware updates to keep up with the nation’s food and drug management policies and newer varieties of food products. Additionally, the food cloud platform (including the intelligence center) will need to have its hardware and software systems replaced to run more efficiently.

*Benefits: These efforts will make the border inspection rapid customs clearance system 10 times more effective, help port offices establish independent risk assessment mechanisms, and improve the inspection system’s automatic document comparison functions to shorten customs clearance time for products.

C. Strengthen the food safety audit and testing capabilities of local health bureaus

*Why? The five-point food safety policy requires random inspections of food products where the audits are conducted by local health bureaus and the tests are performed using methods developed by central authorities. But because the local bureaus lack the equipment to carry out certain tests, and must send samples to the central government, subsidies and resources will be provided to enable the bureaus to perform their own tests. In the event of a food safety incident, samples will no longer need to be passed back and forth between local and central authorities.

*Benefits: Local health bureaus will see their self-testing ratio increase to 85 percent. All 22 local health bureaus in Taiwan will be certified by the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) as food testing agencies as a guarantee of the quality of testing.

D. Construct a border testing office building and warehouse center at Port of Taichung

*Why? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently rents an office space at the Port of Taichung to conduct border testing, but the location is unfavorable for administration purposes and interagency cooperation needs. Constructing a dedicated office building will give the FDA a better location while resolving issues relating to annual contracts and rental fees. A warehouse center and a large refrigeration and freezer facility will also be built, where import goods released under a consignee’s guarantee can be temporarily stored until the border inspection procedures are completed. This will save border inspectors the trouble of chasing down test samples at consignee locations, making the entire process more convenient and time-effective.

*Benefits: This building will shorten the time importers spend declaring and getting their goods through customs, and enhance administrative cooperation between border control agencies (including customs and quarantine). The number of inspector trips outside of Taichung Port to obtain samples from consignee locations will be cut in half, and the time required to process cases involving goods released under consignee’s guarantee will be reduced by 30 to 40 percent.

E. Strengthen the central government’s food safety and toxin testing capabilities

*Why? As fraudulent food practices grow more complex by the day, the instrumentation required to detect the presence of harmful ingredients must likewise be highly precise, highly sensitive and capable of high throughput, such as with nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers and orbital ion trap high-resolution mass spectrometers. To ensure that the nation’s testing facilities have the ability to detect emerging forms of illegal food substances, the FDA must purchase high-precision testing equipment and raise testing and R&D efficiency across the board. These instruments can also be used for drug safety and toxin analyses, which will be useful for testing and research purposes in the event of potential or major food or drug safety incidents.

*Benefits: Authorities will be better equipped to test for food adulteration and unknown contaminants. Big data analysis will be used to single out counterfeit food and pharmaceutical products. Taiwan will also develop stronger testing methods to promote international cooperation.

 

III. Conclusion

Beyond addressing the problems of the day, the food safety component of the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program anticipates the nation’s needs for the next three decades. The plan will enhance food safety capabilities at the borders and the central and local government levels, and create a database platform with laboratories in other advanced countries, enabling Taiwan to build a safer environment for consumers while engaging other countries in the advancement of food safety.