Premier Chen Chien-jen apologizes for controversies over imported eggs
Taipei, Sept. 22 (CNA) Premier Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) on Friday apologized to the public for the first time following the recent controversies surrounding the mislabeling and mishandling of eggs imported in bulk from overseas.
There have been "some defects in our execution of the program" and they have caused "disturbance in society," Chen told the Legislature as he spoke about the government-funded scheme to import approximately 145 million eggs between March and July due to an egg shortage in Taiwan.
Most of the eggs were imported from Brazil, followed by Turkey and Thailand, according to the report submitted by the Cabinet to the Legislature on the issue of imported eggs.
"Here I would like to apologize to the people of the country," he said at the podium surrounded by the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) lawmakers who had been disrupting his report intermittently and calling for him to apologize.
Not to be outdone, legislators from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party rallied behind Chen in a show of support for the premier.
The KMT protest lasted less than 10 minutes before Legislative Speaker You Si-kun (游錫堃) stepped in and warned against disrupting the hearing.
In his report, Chen said the program was launched in March in cooperation with private importers to tackle an egg shortage in Taiwan caused primarily by the global outbreak of bird flu, which subsequently led to the soaring of egg prices in the domestic market.
Acting Agriculture Minister Chen Junne-jih (陳駿季), who was appointed shortly after Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) stepped down from the post amid the controversies, noted that there had been a daily shortage of about two million eggs in Taiwan before the program began.
However, KMT lawmaker Wang Hung-wei (王鴻薇) later questioned whether the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) had failed to accurately estimate how many eggs the country needed, citing the fact that of the 145 million imported eggs, 54 million had been sent to be destroyed after expiring in storage.
The 54 million eggs -- 37.18 percent of the total -- failing to enter the domestic market led to accusations of financial waste on the part of the government.
In response, Chen Chien-jen argued that the MOA's estimate had been "fair," but also admitted that several other private importers not involved in the government program had also been importing eggs from overseas suppliers, leading to the domestic supply of eggs slowly stabilizing over that period.
He added that the 54 million eggs were put in storage in order not to "affect the earnings of local egg producers" and that they would be turned into agricultural compost after being destroyed.
The program has also come under criticism after incidents in which imported eggs were labeled with the wrong expiration date or country of origin.
Some local governments and retailers pulled the mislabeled eggs from store shelves but it remains unclear whether any were sold, and if so how many.
According to Chen Chien-jen, no imported expired eggs were sold and the remaining 32 million eggs that had been kept as reserves will be distributed to food processors, rather than being sold fresh.
Chen Chien-jen said in the future the MOA would work closely with the Food and Drug Administration to keep track of the handling of imported eggs and make information about their processing and labeling public.
He also agreed with lawmakers that the Cabinet would consider no longer importing eggs from a country from which a shipment to Taiwan would take more than 20 days.
Nevertheless, when legislator Chiu Hsien-chih (邱顯智) of the New Power Party urged the premier to launch a Cabinet-led investigation to determine if there was any misconduct by the MOA, he declined to commit.
In response to Chiu, Chen Junne-jih confirmed that Chang Ching-wei (張經緯) will be stepping down as the director-general of the MOA's Department of Animal Industry.
Chang will become the third official to resign over the issue, following the resignations of Chen Chi-chung and Lin Tsung-hsien (林聰賢), chairman of the National Animal Industry Foundation, on Tuesday.
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