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Ramifications of FDA ruling on Hsinchu Rice Noodles

Following an overwhelming public outcry, the Food and Drug Administration of the Ministry of Health and Welfare yesterday reversed its decision to allow manufacturers to use the time-honored label of “Hsinchu Rice Noodles” (新竹米粉) on their products.

The administration had previously ruled to compel all manufacturers of the household staple to strip the “rice noodles” moniker from their products' packaging as part of sweeping measures designed to combat misleading labels found on countless food products. The FDA's decision is based on surveys that had earlier revealed that most Hsinchu rice noodle products contained other ingredients such as corn starch, with some containing less than 50 percent rice.

The change, however, threatened to extinguish the century-old fame of Hsinchu-made rice noodles, sowing confusion throughout the populace over the prospect of purchasing the same product bearing the approved “Hsinchu Cooked Vermicelli” (炊粉) label.

Under the pressure of a tremendous public outcry, the FDA reversed its decision yesterday, the day the change was set to take effect.

While the goal of combating the misleading labeling of food products should be supported by the public, there are more pressing concerns that threaten the well-being of consumers than petty semantics over words printed on food product labels that simply require manufacturers to reiterate the obvious fact that artificial flavorings are found in most low-priced processed food products such as bottled juice beverages and instant noodles.

The FDA blundered in the incident, as it had meddled with the branding of a product instead of safeguarding the health and interests of consumers. Instead of enforcing a sweeping change to the labeling of rice noodle products, the FDA would have better served the public by imposing more transparent disclosure of ingredients used in the production of food products, followed by comprehensive testing and monitoring of products to detect harmful additives and chemicals.

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