29, 2016 - Page 8
By Sheu Hui-yu
Currently, when it
comes to food safety, most problems are attributed to insufficient inspections,
and when those problems are tackled, most effort is spent on the improvement of
testing and data analysis.
a lot of money and employing a great deal of manpower on testing will not
provide a long-term solution, because the ingredients and problems of food and
food additives are innumerable. It is next to impossible to test every
ingredient. Attempting to do so would only waste national resources. An
examination of the food safety incidents in recent years will reveal the
following blind spots that arise when testing is the only guarantee of food
First, food safety
testing is limited to certain categories. Even if more categories are added,
after a while they would become regular procedures; people would assume that as
long as the procedures are followed, the food is safe to eat. However, that
mentality could actually prevent people from discovering new problems. Moreover,
problems such as ingredient spoilage and expiration can be difficult to discover
during back-end testing.
Second, with every
regulation, there are loopholes. However sophisticated testing technology
becomes, it cannot prevent people from devising product formulas specifically to
pass certain testing categories. For instance, tainted milk was produced with
the addition of melamine to increase the nitrogen percentage in the milk and
pass protein-related testing. Another example would be the tainted oil produced
by Chang Chi Foodstuff Factory Co (大統長基),
which devised a formula that contained a percentage of fatty acid in its tainted
oil close to the percentage of fatty acid in untainted oil, thereby making it
difficult for health authorities to produce evidence it was tainted, despite
Third, testing can
serve as “health
management” of food products, but it cannot reflect
the quality and nutritional value that the products contain. Products such as
peanut oil that contains peanut essence instead of real peanuts or milk that
contains high percentages of maltodextrin mislead consumers into thinking that
these products have the ingredients, nutrition and qualities that they should
products are not necessarily hazardous to human health, they are mislabeled;
consumers think that they are getting nutrition from these products, but they
are only spending money on empty calories and additives.
Although it is
necessary to perform testing, it is time-consuming. Hence it should be used
supplementarily. Food safety should be addressed by managing its source: the
ingredients. A comprehensive oversight mechanism from the farms to the table
should be established.
labeling” should be thoroughly enforced. Complete and
transparent product labeling means that food manufacturers would have to produce
evidence of their product qualities, which facilitates oversight and enables
consumers to make informed decisions that suit their needs.
Testing should be
done by going right to the source, employing vertical testing from upstream to
downstream. There do not have to be many samples, but it is necessary to
actually visit upstream factories, cross-examining the data and information of
the product producers and that of the ingredient suppliers.
By doing so, problems such as phantom factories and
incongruities between data provided by suppliers and data recorded by
manufacturers can be discovered. The source of problems can be found by
following the trace to the very source. Afterward, similar products can also be
examined to see if they have similar problems. Consequently, testing and
inspection can be done more precisely and efficiently.
Sheu Hui-yu is director of the John Tung Foundation
Food and Nutrition Center.
Translated by Ethan Zhan