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Agriculture minister defends egg imports amid mounting criticism

09/19/2023 06:50 PM
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Minister of Agriculture Chen Chi-chung speaks at a presser Tuesday. CNA photo Sept. 19, 2023
Minister of Agriculture Chen Chi-chung speaks at a presser Tuesday. CNA photo Sept. 19, 2023

Taipei, Sept. 19 (CNA) Minister of Agriculture Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) on Tuesday defended a program the government used to import 145 million eggs amid a shortage earlier this year, but apologized to the public for "turmoil" caused by critics whom he said had tried to "smear" the policy.

Chen told reporters that the benefits of the importation program had been worth the cost, and pledged to unveil measures to improve public confidence in the scheme during a regular Cabinet meeting on Thursday.

Chen made the remarks after a legislative caucus meeting of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, just days before Premier Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) is set to give a report on the egg import program when a new session of the Legislature opens on Friday.

The controversy began earlier this month when 20,000 eggs imported under the program were recalled from PX Mart supermarkets after they were found to have been labeled with an incorrect expiration date -- Oct. 5 instead of Sept. 24-27 -- sparking food safety concerns.

This incident led to broader scrutiny of the importation program, under which the government imported 145 million eggs from seven countries between March and July to address a domestic shortage caused by an avian flu outbreak earlier this year.

Since the story broke, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) has admitted that 54 million of the imported 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 egg production began to rebound.

The ministry has said that once production stabilized, it opted to let the imported eggs expire rather than release them onto the market.

Despite the waste of taxpayers' money, the ministry has argued that the move was necessary to maintain stable egg prices and thus protect the livelihoods of Taiwan's egg farmers.

In recent days, meanwhile, attention has shifted to the whereabouts of the remaining 91 million eggs imported under the program, with many local governments launching inspections of storage facilities to ensure that no expired eggs were being released onto the market.

The MOA has repeatedly said that no eggs imported under the program have been sold past their expiration dates, and there is currently no evidence to suggest that they have.

To address the public's concerns, the ministry released information this week showing how the imported eggs were distributed -- for sale fresh, for use in processing, or for storage -- and specified the 13 cold storage facilities at which they've been held.

It remains unclear how many of the eggs are even left, though, based on their import dates and listed shelf life of four months, it appears likely that most have already been consumed or used in processing, or else are nearing their expiration.

Aside from accusations of financial waste, opposition politicians have also called for an investigation into the government's contracting of Ultra Source Ltd. (超思公司) -- a small company with only NT$500,000 in authorized capital -- to import 88 million eggs under the program. The MOA has said it followed all relevant laws in selecting the company.

(By Wang Yang-yu, Evelyn Kao and Matthew Mazzetta)


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