by Staff Writers
Taipei (AFP) June 1, 2011
China and South Korea both banned imports of certain food and drinks from Taiwan Wednesday in a fast-expanding regional scare over contamination with a chemical usually used in plastics.
The Philippines and Hong Kong have also limited imports or sales of foodstuffs from the export-dependent island after the alarm was raised over the chemical DEHP, which can cause hormone malfunctions in children.
The Taiwanese government on Wednesday proposed dramatically tougher penalties for lacing food items with banned substances, planning a 33-fold increase in the maximum fine in a bid to prevent tainted foods being sold.
"The food scandal is a shame to Taiwan (which has) long been proud of its food safety management," said Chiu Yi, a lawmaker with the ruling Kuomintang party.
He said he believed the new fines would be an effective deterrent.
Beijing banned imports of Taiwan-made sports drinks, fruit juices and jams that Taipei had said could contain excessive DEHP, and published a list of companies from the island whose imports were banned.
It would add to the list in due course, China's quality watchdog said.
The Philippines Food and Drug Administration meanwhile ordered a sweeping recall of about 300 different products after warning the chemical could shrink boys' testes and cause infertility.
It cautioned the public not to consume the products -- which include sports drinks, fruit concentrate, sweets, syrup and yoghurt -- while distributors were ordered not to sell or import them, the agency said in a notice.
South Korea's Food and Drug Administration likewise introduced a series of bans.
Taiwan this week began a nationwide inspection drive to ensure sports drinks, juices and three more product categories were not tainted with DEHP or five other chemicals, after first raising the alarm on May 24 with a major recall.
It said then it was recalling more than 460,000 bottles of sports drinks and juice after some locally manufactured drinks were found to contain the plasticiser, sparking its worst food scare in decades.
Authorities have arrested the owner of a company that used DEHP rather than more expensive palm oil in products supplied to dozens of local drinks makers. He faces up to six months in jail.
Hong Kong also banned two Taiwanese drinks on Tuesday, and on Wednesday said it was recalling the stomach medicine Well Tab after its own tests found DEHP in the product.
It endorsed a manufacturer's recall of five other products, mostly vitamin tablets, made by a local company using a Taiwanese flavouring agent, and said it was testing more pharmaceutical items.
Taiwanese Premier Wu Den-yih called on laboratories around Taiwan to work faster to bring down a large backlog of untested foods.
Tsai Shu-chen, a senior official with the Food and Drug Administration, said the health department would seek to increase fines by submitting an amendment to the existing food and drug management law, the United Evening News reported.
She was quoted as saying that according to the bill under preparation, those who break the law could face a fine of up to Tw$10 million ($350,000), compared with Tw$300,000 now. She could not be reached for comment.
The bill, if given the go-ahead by the cabinet, is expected to be submitted to parliament for further deliberation and approved before it adjourns on June 14.
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