Court hands plasticizer supplier 13-year prison term

The China Post news staff

A key suspect linked to the supply of plasticizers to food and drink producers was sentenced to 13 years in prison while his wife was given a jail term of 10 years by the Banciao District Court, yesterday. Their two sons were found not guilty. Chen Che-hsiung, owner of Pin Han Perfumery, was indicted and brought to trial after his firm was found to have supplied chemical plasticizers, commonly called clouding agents, as additives to companies offering processed food, bread, and beverage products. The company’s major clients included leading food processors and retail chains like Uni-President Enterprises, which runs the 7-Eleven convenience stores, Yes Company which supplies bottled water, and Tsin Tsin Foods during the period from August 2005 to May 2011. Chen was indicted by prosecutors for fraud, breaking food hygiene administrative regulations, and manufacturing and supplying products causing public health hazards.

Chen’s wife, Wang Feng, was sentenced to 10 years as his accomplice. Wang also served as accountant at their firm. The couple’s two adult sons were ruled not guilty by the court. Both claimed that they had no knowledge about the products being prohibited for use in food and drink items. The wide use of the plasticizers as stabilizers in the processed foodstuffs and drinks caused extensive panic among consumers and devastated sales of food and beverage products on the domestic market. The incident also tarnished the image globally of products made in Taiwan and undercut the overseas shipments of Taiwan products.

Chen’s firm was not the only supplier of the chemicals which are not allowed to be used in consumable products. A survey by the Consumers Foundation found that as high as 69 percent of consumers in Taiwan have increased their concern and anxiety over food safety after the illegal use of the chemicals was exposed in May. The survey, conducted in July and released by the foundation yesterday, showed that more than half of consumers in Taiwan said they have no confidence in the general food safety in Taiwan. Sixty-six percent of them do not accept the statements of food processors, bakeries, water bottlers, and retail chains that they themselves were also victims of the food safety scandal. A same proportion of 66 percent of the interviewees said the contamination incident has affected their purchasing behavior, and that they now pay more attention to product brands and labeling. Some companies that made investments in inspecting and testing instruments have enjoyed increased sales after their policy of refusing to use any plasticizers was reported by media. The Banciao District Court said Wang and his wife can still appeal their sentences with the Taiwan High Court. The plasticizer incident was put to rest only after the Food and Drug Administration under the Department of Health, other government agencies, and law enforcement agents mounted sweeping operations to carry out product inspections and trace the supply sources. Several other suppliers of plasticizers for other food processors, drink producers, bakeries, and confectioneries are still under investigation.