Governing Food Safety and Sanitation Act and Food Safety in Taiwan

Ning-Sing Shaw, Department of Biochemical Science & Technology, National Taiwan University.

Consumers in Taiwan have lost their confidence in the Governing Food Safety and Sanitation Act (食品衛生管理法) due to several serious food safety incidents in recent years. People are questioning whether the Act can stop the food producers from adding illegal food additives, creating fake nutrition labels, and using harmful artificial ingredients in processed food. Its prospect seems not be so optimistic from the ongoing food safety crisis. Taiwan government has made efforts in the past 45 years and established a food safety regime  but this regime has not been well evaluated. In this article, I investigated the process of establishing a food safety institution in Taiwan. I argue that each amendment in regulations is a passive response to a food safety scandal, rather than a proactive progress to establish a more comprehensive institution that can address consumers’ needs1 and protect consumers’ rights for food safety and quality.

  

 

The first step of building Taiwan’s modern food safety regime was the establishment of the Department of Health (行政院衛生署) in 1970. Subsequently, the Governing Food Safety and Sanitation Act was put into effect in 1975. Meanwhile, the National Chung-Hsing University (國立中興大學) and the National Taiwan University(國立臺灣大學) established departments and graduate institutions in food science. In 1979, the polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) lethal incidents in Central Taiwan pushed the Department of Health to establish a Food Sanitation Administration to carry out “Food Sanitation Improvement and Management Program”.

From 1981 to 1984, the first stage of the Program aimed to develop a central and local agency for managing food safety. It also established necessary infrastructures such as food sample testing laboratories and facilities, regulations, surveys, personnel trainings, educational programs, financial supports, and a Food Security Consultative Committee. The infrastructure established in this stage has built a foundation for the food safety regime in Taiwan.

 

From 1985 to 1989, the second stage of the Program, managed by the Food Sanitation Administration, focused on the sanitary conditions of food factories, food shops and food vendors The program recruited 150 staff to inspect the sanitary conditions. The goals were to improve the environment of food processing. However, twenty years went by, the Food Sanitation Administration did not achieve their goals due to the rapid change of social and economic conditions.

 

In 2008, the Administration hired 27 employees who were divided into four divisions: food safety, examination, consult and nutrition. The Administration’s annual budget was NT 100,000,000. However, the staffing level could not meet the requirements followed by globalization in trade liberalization, bio-technology, marketing strategies, consumer’s consciousness, and population composition. After a series of food safety incidents, the government finally realized that the Governing Food Safety and Sanitation Act has fundamental flaws and we are facing new food safety challenge.

 

 

The Governing Food Safety and Sanitation Act has been amended ten times since it was in effect in 1975. However, five of ten amendments took place right after each important food safety incident since 2008. The government has shown quick responses to amend the laws; nevertheless, hasty amendments might lack prospective and comprehensive considerations. For example, in the Article 8 of the Act:

 

“Food businesses belonging to a category and scale designated by the central competent authority in a public announcement may commence its business operation only after applying for registration with the central competent authority, the municipal or county/city competent authority.”

 

This registration system is open for public inquiry; but the government’s websites do not show clearly how to inquire such system. The system also requires the users to provide company name, company address, product name, and the type of the company. The contents required to be registered do not consider consumers’ needs and are not accessible for the public consumers.

In sum, food safety regime in Taiwan is passive. Each amendment is a political reaction to respond each food safety incident. Unless Taiwan government can shift this passive attitude to a more proactive one, the real needs of the consumers will never be included in the regulations; as a result, it is possible we would see food safety incidents happen again. Therefore, we urge our government to serve as proactive guardian in food safety issue and to protect consumers’ rights.

 

【1】“Consumers’ needs” in this article refers to that whether the starting point of the Act amendment is from the consumer’s perspective, care about the perception of the consumers rather than from the producer’s perspective, conveniences and efficiency.

 

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