The more than 800 banned products include beverages, food and additives. The Philippines, Hong Kong and South Korea have also limited imports or sales of foodstuffs from Taiwan.
Yahoo Health reports:
"Authorities have arrested the owner of a company that used DEHP rather than more expensive palm oil in products supplied to dozens of local drinks makers. He faces up to six months in jail."
DEHP (di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate) is a type of phthalate that is used in plastics and personal care products. Like other phthalates, DEHP is among a group of endocrine-disrupting chemicals that have been linked to a wide range of developmental and reproductive effects, including:
- Reduced sperm counts
- Testicular atrophy or structural abnormality
- Liver cancer
In the United States, you're likely to be exposed to this chemical through plastics, such as vinyl flooring, shower curtains, and toys, but they're also found in processed food packaging, medical tubing and personal care products like nail polish, hair spray, deodorant and fragrance. In Asia, however, DEHP has been detected in food products, where it may have been intentionally added to a food additive to substitute for more expensive food ingredients to save the manufacturer money.
Foods from Taiwan May be Tainted
Taiwan's Department of Health is currently investigating the contamination of numerous foods and beverages with plasticizer chemicals like DEHP. So far more than 1 million sports drinks, fruit jams, instant noodles containing sesame oil packets, cookies and other food products have been taken off shelves due to the toxin. It appears that the chemical was being added to foods as a substitute for more expensive ingredients like palm oil, and it's unclear how long this has been going on or whether most manufacturers were aware of the contamination.
As reported by news outlet Xinhuanet:
"The plasticizer was illegally added to food and drinks as a substitute for a traditional and more expensive emulsifier, such as palm oil. For 100-yuan ($15) worth of palm oil, the same amount of DEHP costs only about 20 yuan [$3], said Li Shuguang, a food science professor at Fudan University, during an interview with CCTV.
… According to Li's research, DEHP in food and drinks can cause cancer. It also can lead to kidney or testicular damage and fertility problems if it is consumed regularly and accumulates in the body. Children are the most vulnerable group, his research shows."
Asian Foods Have a History of Contamination
This is only the latest food scandal to erupt from Asia as of late, although usually it's China that is making the headlines. For the past three decades China's economy has averaged nearly 10 percent annual growth. Their economy is fueled by the largest migration the world has ever seen. An estimated 140 million rural Chinese have already left their homes and another 45 million were expected to join the urban workforce by 2012.
However, the bulk of the Chinese are not benefiting from this massive increase in economic growth. They are losing their connection to ancient traditions in exchange for a piece of the "good life," which never materializes.
The Western countries that "benefit" from the explosive growth of imported foods, such as fresh produce, from China have the potential for some pretty dire health ramifications. The real price for cheap strawberries year-round may end up being your health. China is now almost as well known for toxic food ingredients as they are for electronics. Especially in the light of the recent string of disasters, such as:
- Pet food ingredients laced with toxic melamine
- Imported livestock quarantined for disease and banned chemical contaminants
- Catfish fillets from Chinese aquatic farms tainted with bacteria and heavy metals
- Dried apples preserved with a cancer-causing chemical
- Mushrooms laced with illegal pesticides
Most recently there was also the case of the exploding watermelons due to the growth accelerator forchlorfenuron -- although to be fair this chemical is also legal in the United States.
Contaminated Foods Quickly Make Their Way Around the Globe
The Taiwanese DEHP scare may sound far from home, but our global food system makes it so Asian foods are easily attainable at your local supermarket. On the bright side, this allows you access to certain exotic foodstuffs you need to make your favorite authentic Chinese meal at home … but it also exposes you to potential contamination issues like the ones described above..
For instance, Chinese-raised fish, which are commonly sold in U.S. supermarkets, are often fed a diet of chicken waste and human waste. And to compensate for the lack of clean water they pump in antibiotics, fungicides and pesticides—many of which are banned carcinogens in the United States.
These are just a few examples of our "global food system," and the steep problems it poses to food safety. When food is produced and distributed on such a massive scale, contamination occurs on a massive scale as well.
If you shop at mega-stores like Wal-Mart, you can be guaranteed that you're buying food from Asian countries; Wal-Mart is one of China's largest trading partners. But you may be surprised to learn that even stores like Whole Foods get some products from China, including foods that are labeled organic.
The Safest Food Supply is Usually the One Closest to Home
The bottom line here is: know where your food comes from and how it's produced. This may sound like an impossible task, and in many cases it will be -- particularly if you depend on processed and commercially farmed foods. Remember, this is true even of foods produced on a mass scale in the United States, as these are also often contaminated more than you might like to think.
So, in the long run, and as much as possible, you're better off getting your food from a local farmer's market or community-supported agriculture program (CSA). The food will be local, which means that it will be fresher and also will help preserve the environment by preventing the wasteful use of fossil fuels in transportation.
But, importantly, food grown on a smaller scale, and especially locally grown organic food, is generally safer and more nutritious than the factory-farmed food typically sold in grocery stores. At the very least, when you get to know the farmer, you can be assured that plastics chemicals are not being added to your family's food on the sly.