Recently, numerous food scandals have been uncovered in Taiwan, some of which have been going on for years. These cases raise questions about how much unsafe food is still being produced, how long each scandal has been going on, how many people have been affected by them, and ultimately negatively impacts trust in Taiwan’s products both domestically and internationally.
The issues plaguing the food industry are hurting Taiwan in multiple ways, not only affecting the people’s health and tainting reputations but also hurting their wallets:
- Public backlash against companies involved food scandals can sometimes force change; Ting Hsin International Group was the one of the largest food manufacturers involved in the cooking oil or “gutter oil” scandal, and massive boycotts stifled its business. Not only did Ting Hsin end up exiting the cooking oil business, but its executives are being prosecuted and the company was obliged to sell its shares of the Taipei 101 management company.
- Both domestic and international food sales have suffered from a combination of distrust and bans. A natural reaction to Taiwan’s food scandals by trading partners has been to place bans on broad categories of food: the 2011 incident with plasticizers caused China, South Korea, and the Philippines to ban Taiwanese beverages, jams, syrups, jellies, and other products; Malaysia and Singapore banned a number of items following the 2013 food starch scandal; Japan and China placed bans on Taiwanese food products to protect themselves against the cooking oil scandal in 2014. If and when the food safety issues are proclaimed to be corrected, how confident will Taiwan’s trading partners be in resuming business?
- Taiwan is also affected by imported ingredients: The China melamine scandal (involving pet food, infant formula and many other foods) starting in 2008 affected many Taiwanese labels. It has been discovered oolong tea leaves sourced from Vietnam contain DDT, which is a banned pesticide. Another tea case in development is investigating whether rose leaves from India also contain DDT, and so on and so forth. These findings will lead to increased import regulations and more mandatory testing, which are not a bad thing to have but will certainly increase expenses.
- Not only has international trade been hurt, but Taiwan’s reputation for amazing food is a key driving force for tourism. For now, the negative news seems to be getting little international attention while there is more positive publicity such as Condé Nast Traveler magazine naming Taiwan as the “foodie destination of 2015,” but it only takes one major incident like China’s melamine scandal to raise international eyebrows.
Taiwanese American communities used to emphatically buy “Product of Taiwan” goods, associating it with quality and tradition. In China, there is still so much distrust in its own goods that Chinese unofficially imported infant formula from Australia, creating supply shortages–will the Taiwanese and the international community similarly one day shun the “Product of Taiwan” label? It is certainly imperative that Taiwan’s government makes improvements to properly monitor food produced in Taiwan. Most importantly, the Taiwanese food producers need to step up and raise their own standards rather than coldly calculate what chemical additives to use to cheat or meet minimum regulatory requirements.
As a nation where locally-produced food is a source of pride and a national obsession, it’s truly upsetting that some Taiwanese are willing to forsake the island’s reputation and harm their communities to get rich rather than compete in producing high quality products. Taiwan needs to make food safety a priority for the sake of its own future.
Photo credits: Charles Chaung
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