New contamination scandal rocks Asia

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 2nd June 2011

DEHP-contaminated sports drinkTaiwan has been hit with the latest food-adulteration scandal, after Yu Shen Chemical Co was found to be selling an emulsifier manufactured using a carcinogenic plasticising compound, Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, more commonly known as DEHP.

DEHP, which can cause endocrine and hormonal dysfunction and feminization in boys as well as cancer, was being used by the company in place of more expensive palm oil in the emulsifier.

The emulsifier itself has not been identified specifically, but is described by the China Post as a “clouding agent” used in sports drinks, fruit juices, jellies, yogurt drinks and yogurt tablets, some of which are sold under popular brands such as Dahu Strawberry Farm, Sunkist and Taiwan Yes.. The newspaper reported that the highest concentration of the toxic chemical could be enough to exceed the ‘permissible amount’ for a 60kg adult in as little as 500ml of contaminated product.

The China Post also reported 127 barrels of contaminated product and 10,000kg of food mixes seized from four companies, who had purchased the emulsifier from Yu Shen Chemical Co.

On Sunday, a second company, Ben Hur Spices and Chemicals, also was pinned for manufacturing adulterated products, this time with the plasticiser di-isononyl phthalate (DINP). The products – P Cloudy and Orange Cloudy – were sold to drinks giant Uni-President, who used them in their Pro Sweat sports drink, which has been held for testing.

Four arrests have been made so far in the cases.

Countries across Asia are scrambling to recall, ban and test products which may contain the adulterated product. China and South Korea have banned all imports of food which may contain the emulsifier, and the Phillipines FDA has initiated a recall of around 300 products. Hong Kong has recalled two soft drinks, several vitamin tablets and a stomach medicine, Well Tab.

The scandal has shone a spotlight on the inadequate food traceability standards, with C. I. Chen, the chairman of the Taiwan Beverage Industries Association (TBIA), admitting to the China Post that in the past, only a list of ingredients was required on labels, and that such information had proved inadequate.

“This food scandal has hurt local and foreign consumers’ confidence in Taiwan food products,” he said.“The best way to ease public fears is to provide food traceability processes. It is a tough lesson, but the lesson is learned.”

It has not yet been established whether any of the contaminated emulsifier or products manufactured with it could have been exported to Australia, either directly from Taiwan or via mainland China.

Leading Australian food lawyer Joe Lederman of FoodLegal said he expects the Australian food enforcement authorities to act immediately, but warned that they might be overwhelmed by the lack of adequate traceability systems for the tracking of companies’ globally-sourced ingredients.

“Usually, they simply trust the supplier certifications even when price is an overriding factor in sourcing the ingredient,” Lederman said.

“This has potentially enormous food safety implications for Australia given the widespread usage of emulsifiers for cloudy drinks, such as fruit juices, and numerous dairy products and baked products – in Australia and in export markets.

“The fact that this emulsifier could have been the least expensive in global markets makes it highly likely to be in widespread use.”