Taiwan's minister to answer questions about US$6 million of imported eggs
Taipei, Sept. 18 (CNA) Premier Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) on Monday said he will ask Agriculture Minister Chen Chih-chung (陳吉仲) to publicly address concerns about a special egg import program his ministry launched amid a national egg shortage earlier this year.
On Sunday night, multiple Taiwanese news outlets reported that Chen Chih-chung had resigned due to controversy over the program, prompting a denial from the Cabinet, which said the premier wanted Chen to stay on in order to resolve the issue.
On Monday, the premier said "of course, of course" when asked by reporters if he intended to have Chen Chih-chung respond to concerns about the program on Thursday, when the Cabinet typically meets and holds a follow-up press conference.
The controversy relates to a program under which the government imported 145 million eggs from Brazil and six other countries between March and July to address a domestic shortage that Taiwan faced earlier this year.
Of the imports, 54 million eggs, or 37 percent of the total, with a value of over NT$200 million (US$6.25 million), have been sent to be destroyed, mostly because they expired in storage facilities after domestic production began to rebound, according to the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA).
Aside from the issue of financial waste, the government has also been criticized for being slow to provide information on the whereabouts of the imported eggs, thus failing to assuage fears among the public that the expired or substandard eggs might have hit the market.
The Agriculture Ministry, for its part, has said no eggs imported under the program were sold past their expiration dates.
Meanwhile, several other aspects of the program have also drawn controversy, and gotten significant media attention, but remained in dispute and in need of clarification.
One of the criticisms relates to a batch of 20,000 imported eggs that was recalled from the PX Mart supermarket chain last week after their expiration date was incorrectly labeled as Oct. 5, rather than dates from Sept. 24-27.
It remains unclear whether Tai Nong Egg Products Co., the company that washed and labeled the eggs, was responsible for the labeling error, or if -- as its chairman has claimed -- it did not receive proper instructions from the Agriculture Ministry.
Scrutiny of import company
Suspicions have also been raised as to why Ultra Source Ltd. (超思公司), a small company with only NT$500,000 in authorized capital, was contracted by the government to import 88 million eggs under the program.
The MOA has said it followed all relevant laws in selecting the importer, while the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) has asked the Control Yuan to investigate the possibility of official malfeasance or profiteering in the awarding of the contract.
On Monday, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party's legislative caucus said Chen Chih-chung would respond directly to questions from opposition lawmakers at the Legislature on Friday.
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