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'Rice noodle' firms worried over more policy changes

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Hsinchu City Rice Noodle Union Chairman Tsai Sheng-hsing (蔡勝興) yesterday said that, as far as he knows, many rice noodle manufacturers are currently considering whether or not to change product packages to abide by the FDA's latest ruling, because they are worried that the government may shift its policy again.

Tsai's remark came after the FDA on Tuesday changed its latest policy twice in the same day. The FDA on Tuesday morning announced that starting from July 1, any rice noodle products that are not completely made of rice cannot be named rice noodle. Many rice noodle manufacturers have changed the packaging of their products from “Hsinchu Rice Noodle” to “Hsinchu Cooked Vermicelli” to abide by the new rule.

The policy, however, drew criticism from lawmakers and rice noodle manufacturers, who said that such a policy would ruin Hsinchu's long history of rice noodles. In light of this, the FDA on Tuesday night shifted its policy, stating that rice noodles containing 50 percent or more rice may be labeled as “rice noodles.”

The FDA said, however, that products that consist of 50-99 percent rice must also be labeled “mixed rice noodles,” and the font of the label has to be larger than the label stating “rice noodles.”

The administration said, on the other hand, that products containing less than 50 percent rice must be labeled “cooking vermicelli,” or “water vermicelli.” The percentage of rice contained in the product should be also labeled on the package, the FDA added.

Tsai said that as far as he knows, many rice noodle manufacturers have at least two versions of their products — one that has been used for decades, and another version that was made in accordance with the FDA's previous new rule.

Shifted Policy Costs Money: Tsai

Tsai said that for a small-scale rice noodle manufacturer, it costs around NT$500,000 to make new packaging for it product, adding that it would cost NT$2 million for a larger-scale businesses to make new packages. Tsai added that such costs are a burden to manufacturers. No matter whether the package of rice noodle says “Hsinchu Rice Noodle” or “Hsinchu Cooked Vermicelli”, they are all real traditional Hsinchu rice noodles.

FDA Deputy Director-General Chiang Yu-mei (姜郁美) said her administration would soon convene conferences with the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), the Council of Agriculture (COA) and relevant local governments to discuss the issue.

Chiang said the aforementioned parties will negotiate and come to a conclusion for a standard font and size for the label for rice noodle products, and then carry out the policy. Before a conclusion is made, no punishment will be imposed on rice noodle manufacturers, she said.

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