One of the things you get used to when you live in Taiwan is periodic hand-wringing about the state of the food supply after the periodic discovery that Someone Is Cheating. In this case the Big News is that a supplier to a major firm was using totally tainted oil....
Police and prosecutors also said two underground factories were busted on suspicion of selling processed waste oils - collected from cookers, fryers and grease traps - including to one that supplied leading food oil manufacturer Chang Guann Co. Another factory allegedly recycled grease from leather processing plants for oils used in animal feeds.The Taipei Times added:
Officials said that Chang Guann then sold the oils on to at least 235 companies, including a number of leading brands, as lard-based cooking oils. They include food giants Wei Chuan, Chi Mei and Taiwan Sugar.
Aside from Wei Chuan Foods Corp (味全食品工業) — which immediately pulled 12 pork floss and meat paste products from stores on Thursday night after the food scare came to light — a number of household names are on the list of affected products, including state-run Taiwan Sugar Corp (台糖); food and seasonings manufacturer Ve Wong Corp (味王); Chi Mei Frozen Food Co (奇美食品); Sheng Hsiang Jen Foods Co (盛香珍食品); Gourmet Master Co (美食達人) — which owns the bakery and coffee chain 85oC (85度C); and Haw-Di-I Foods Co (好帝一食品) — which operates the popular barbecue sauce brand Bull Head (牛頭牌).The best part of this is the prosecution. How much bail would you set for this serial poisoner? Well, I'm sure whatever number you picked, it was higher than the local prosecutors:
Also on the list is breakfast store Good Morning (早安美芝城); restaurant chain Wu Wha Ma Dumpling Home (五花馬); Magie du Levain (樂金食品) — which serves as the bakery for Hi-Life convenience stores (萊爾富); 137-year-old pastry chain Yu Jen Jai (玉珍齋); Lee Hu Cake Store (李鵠餅店) — a Keelung-based bakery store founded in 1882; and Tzu Wei Chen Food Co (滋味珍食品) — the former name of Black Bridge Foods (黑橋牌食品).
“The 235 firms combined bought a total of 51,981 cartons of fragrant lard oil manufactured by Chang Guann between March 1 and Sunday. Fifty-five of the companies are based in Greater Kaohsiung, 30 in Greater Tainan and 21 in New Taipei City,” FDA Director-General Yeh Ming-kung (葉明功) told a press conference in Taipei.
Kuo Lieh-cheng (郭烈成), 32, [underground oil company owner] was arrested after the scandal broke and was released on bail of NT$50,000 (US$1,672) on Thursday. Prosecutors filed a request with the court on Friday to detain him again, since it was discovered that he had withdrawn his total savings of NT$860,000 after he was released on bail on Thursday.How about that? Bail equals one month's salary for a high school teacher. It's like they are begging him to flee. If he flees, he can't testify that everyone in the supply chain knew what was going on, and he can then be scapegoated by everyone. And the big brands can keep their brand images intact. Which is the most important thing, of course.
They don't teach you in B-school that one of the most important functions of supply chains is laundering. By the time that toxic oil climbed up out of the underground factory and into cans of Wei Chuan meat or croissants at 85C, it had been laundered by being turned over through four or five companies and had become good oil. Yet down at the bottom of the supply chain everyone had to know what was going on. The people who bought from the underground factory had to know what they were getting, because that is the nature of the System -- everyone knows what is going on, but no one talks about it or does anything. But because the underground factory owner will be blamed, everyone else will escape blame and the System will continue, intact. Periodic jail terms for underground factory personnel are just the cost of doing business for the System, and anyway it won't affect shareholders and CEOs who (it goes without saying) buy all their food imported.
Langdon Winner noted decades ago in Autonomous Technology that this laundering effect of distance is inherent in big technosystems (like supply chains) -- the people at top have deniability since they are too distant from the front lines ("we don't know what's going on down there") while the people at the bottom are only following orders. The System just moves forward, autonomously, leaving its bewildered, unknowing victims in its wake.
The whole thing should be shut down, from the grease factory to the CEOs of the big firms who were too lazy to properly test their oils, and everyone carted off to jail. But one of the ways our criminal justice system protects criminals is that only the people at the bottom will be held responsible -- individuals are held responsible, but structures? Never.
There's not much else to say. I'd like to say this will trigger change, but it won't. This kind of problem is fundamental to the System, accentuated by the fact that Taiwan must import almost all of its edible oils and fats. The oil company will shut down, move to a new location and re-open to do the same thing. Or some other underground oil company doing the same thing will take the business. In a few months everything will be back to normal, and the public and media will be haring off after the next big thing....
Really, I don't even know why I am writing this post.
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