TPP's Ko urges vice president to answer questions surrounding imported eggs
Taipei, Sept. 21 (CNA) Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), the Taiwan People's Party (TPP) chairman and presidential candidate, on Thursday called on Vice President Lai Ching-te (賴清德) to answer questions regarding the mislabeling and mishandling of imported eggs, which has caused a food scare and sparked public outcry in Taiwan.
Ko was responding to reporters' requests for comment on the incident surrounding the importing of 140 million eggs between March and July, which took place as a consequence of an egg shortage in Taiwan which the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) attributed to bird flu.
Nothing about the incident made sense, Ko said, asking why Ultra Source (超思), a Kaohsiung-based importer with a registered capital of NT$500,000 (US$15,564), had been tasked with importing 88.14 million eggs from Brazil that cost several hundred million New Taiwan dollars by the ministry.
In addition, Ultra Source was marked as temporarily closed on the day the directive to import Brazilian eggs was issued, Ko said, questioning how a temporarily closed company could have been awarded the contract.
According to media reports, Ultra Source changed its operational status to "temporarily closed" on February 24, the day the ministry announced the egg import program.
The company was awarded the contract on March 1, before it became operational again on March 2, according to media reports.
The bidding process suggested that there may be corruption behind the egg imports, and Lai, as a member of the DPP administration, must not distance himself from the incident, Ko said.
Ko called on Lai, the DPP presidential nominee, to create a task force to probe what had happened.
Earlier this month, some members of the Kuomintang (KMT) filed a lawsuit against former Agriculture Minister Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) -- who resigned on Tuesday amid the controversy -- accusing him of corruption and influence peddling involving the egg importer.
The MOA has said it followed all relevant laws in selecting the importer.
Speaking in defense of the MOA, DPP legislative caucus Director-General Liu Shyh-fang (劉世芳) said Wednesday that the MOA had set four criteria for evaluating tenders.
Ultra Source was the only company that met all four criteria, beating eight competitors, and was thus deemed the most suitable candidate to be awarded the contract, Liu said.
On Thursday's press conference, Ko also asked the ministry to clarify how many of the imported eggs had been destroyed after being pulled from shelves due to their place of origin or expiry date being mislabeled.
The government should inform the public as to whether any of the mislabeled eggs had made it into the market, Ko added.
The government-funded import program has recently come under criticism after incidents in which imported eggs were labeled with the wrong expiration date or country of origin, as well as the ministry's admission that 54 million of the eggs were sent to be destroyed after expiring in storage.
At a press conference Thursday, Chang Ching-wei (張經緯), director-general of the MOA's Department of Animal Industry, argued that the program had been largely successful in easing the shortage without affecting prices in a way that could harm local egg producers.
Chang reiterated that no imported eggs had been sold past their expiration. Any remaining eggs that have not yet expired will be distributed to food processors, rather than being sold fresh, he said.
The DPP's Lai has remained mostly quiet on the controversy, only saying on Wednesday that Chen had worked hard for the past seven years as MOA minister.
Lai expressed hope that the MOA would take necessary steps ahead of winter to ensure sufficient supply of agricultural products, including eggs, according to his statement delivered at the party's Central Standing Committee meeting.
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