TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's government said on Wednesday it plans to increase tenfold the fines for food safety violations and offer whistle-blowers more rewards to tackle a widening "gutter oil" scandal.
Fines for violations will be raised ten times to a maximum TW$200 million (S$8.4 million) if the offence results in death, Premier Jiang Yi-huah told reporters. Fines for other food safety offences will also be raised tenfold.
Violators will face a maximum seven-year prison term rather than the current five years for lacing food with banned materials or falsifying ingredients, he added. The punishment for such an offence resulting in death is life imprisonment since the government passed a tougher food safety law last year.
A maximum TW$2 million reward will be offered to people who give information on food safety breaches, and the reward will be doubled to four million if an employee turns his or her own company in. "Taiwan's reputation as a gourmet food kingdom has suffered big damage because of this food safety incident and we should all work together to get back on our feet. This will be a primary task of the cabinet this year," Mr Jiang said.
The measures need Parliament's approval.
The latest scandal involves a company selling hundreds of tonnes of "gutter oil" to food makers, bakeries and restaurants and has resulted in mass product recalls.
Investigators found that in the six months from February, Chang Guann had purchased 243 tonnes of tainted oil - collected from cookers, fryers and grease traps - from an unlicensed factory and mixed it with lard oil for sales to its customers islandwide.
A total of 782 tonnes of such oil had been produced.
Hundreds of tonnes of mooncakes - traditionally served at this time of year - along with snacks, bread, instant noodles, steamed buns and dumplings have been removed from shelves in Taiwan and Hong Kong since the case surfaced earlier this month.
More than 1,000 Taiwanese restaurants, bakeries and food plants had used the tainted oil, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Many have apologised to customers for having unknowingly used the tainted oil.
It was the second food safety scandal to hit Taiwan in less than a year.
Last December, a Taiwanese factory owner was sentenced to 16 years in prison for selling olive oil adulterated with cheap cottonseed oil and a banned colouring agent, after authorities recalled tens of thousands of bottles of tainted cooking oil.