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July 24, 2017

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Ma announces huge operation on food safety

President Ma Ying-jeou said yesterday that government health units have launched the nation's largest-ever action to secure food safety by checking up to 16,000 food makers and outlets and removing from sales stands over 20,000 food and beverage items suspected of being contaminated with toxic plasticizer DEHP.

Ma said the large-scale investigation campaign came after over 900 food and beverage products, supplied by more than 400 mid- and downstream food and beverage companies, were suspected to be contaminated with DEHP.

Ma made the remarks when meeting with Cabinet officials in a "national security" meeting to plan the next moves to halt the worsening food scare in Taiwan.

He continued that the meeting was held to review the investigation's actions and results, publicize the entire campaign process, and to seek effective measures to prevent the recurrence of similar food safety incidents.

 The meeting came a day after the Department of Health recommended that hospitals temporarily stop dispensing an antibiotic that was found to contain a plasticizer.

 The announcement on Tuesday of the presence of the chemical in the drug was the latest development in the food scare that has rocked the nation since mid-May.

 The classification of yesterday's meeting meant that the crisis has been raised to the presidential level, one week after the May 31 "D-Day" deadline officials had set for manufacturers and vendors to stop distributing potentially tainted food and drink.

 However, more cases of contamination have surfaced since "D-Day," including the prescription drug on Tuesday.

Premier Wu Den-yih said ahead of the meeting that the Cabinet had been in charge of the response to the crisis, holding cross-ministry meetings daily.

He apologized to the nation for the government's failure to monitor food safety and promised to give a report on the crisis to the Legislative Yuan, if lawmakers require him to do so.

The premier also vowed to crack down on the illegal use of plasticizers in food. He said the crackdown would be similar to 1839 China when the Ching Dynasty general, Lin Tse-hsu seized and burned opium from the West.

The premier dismissed criticism that "D-Day" had failed to contain the crisis.

He said that when the government was first alerted to the contamination, it decided to make concerted efforts to root out the problem. The crisis began when health authorities detected DEHP in clouding agents from Yu Shen Chemical Co., a supplier.

It was expected that the scope of the crisis would turn out to be immense as the investigation went on, he said.

However, while a plasticizer has been found in Augmentin, an antibiotic produced by GlaxoSmithKline, health authorities have not banned the drug.

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