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Taiwan Times: Examining the Ting Hsin case

2015/11/29 21:16:17

A district court's ruling last week that acquitted Ting Hsin Oil and Fat Industrial Co. (頂新製油) of charges related to violations of the country's food safety law sparked a widespread outcry in the society, triggered doubts about enforcement of the law, and shook people's trust in the judicial system.

Changhua prosecutors were seeking a 30-year prison sentence against former Ting Hsin Oil and Fat Chairman Wei Ying-chung (魏應充) and severe penalties for other executives of the company, which was accused last year of putting sub-standard cooking oil and other food products on the market. The acquittal was a slap in the face for prosecutors.

In its ruling, the Changhua District Court said the prosecution had failed to produce enough evidence to prove its case. However, we think the verdict resulted from the judges' outdated and mistaken interpretation of the food safety law.

The court ruling was based on three main factors. First, experts testified that under Vietnam law, pigs that die of diseases on farms must be disposed of by means of incineration and the carcasses cannot be removed from the farms.

Based on that testimony, the court said that even if Ting Hsin had acquired animal fat from the Vietnamese supplier Dai Hanh Phuc Co. (大幸福公司), whether of a grade for human consumption or feed purposes, the fat would have come from healthy slaughtered pigs.

Second, the court was convinced that once processed oil is produced by means of a reliable refining process and its heavy metal and acid levels fall within national sanitation and safety standards, it can be sold as edible oil.

Third, the court ruled that based on the Food and Drug Administration's recognized analysis method, the fat supplied by Dai Hanh Phuc to Ting Hsin was not a recycled product.

Those points in the ruling revealed an outdated and misguided interpretation of the Act Governing Food Safety and Sanitation, despite the fact that it has been revised several times since 2008.

In 1996, Taiwan was hit by a major food scare due to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) among pigs. The public was taken aback by a court ruling that acquitted people who were charged with using the carcasses of diseased pigs to produce processed food.

In that ruling, the court said FMD could not be transferred from pigs to humans and cited records that showed no such transmissions as a result of eating meat from pigs that had died of FMD.

Assailed by public criticisms, the relevant authorities began a series of amendments to the food safety act to allow for the punishment of people who violated the law, without having to take certain other factors into consideration.

Now the act clearly states that products used for animal feed are not fit for human's consumption. No matter how the oil and fat imported from Vietnam by Ting Hsin was extracted, they were not of a grade for human consumption and any such deliberate use would be a violation of the law. (Editorial abstract -- Nov. 29, 2015)

(By Elizabeth Hsu)