Food exports in a pickle – Bangkok Post
Nearly 30,000 tins of canned pineapple were removed from market shelves in Taiwan this week and sent back to Thailand after traces of saccharin, an artificial sweetener, were found in the product, local media reported.
Due to its stringent food safety regulations, Taiwan prohibits any additives in frozen and canned fruit.
Earlier this year, the National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards admitted it had received a series of warnings from Taiwan’s food and drug authorities.
They were concerned about the excessive amount of restricted or banned substances, including saccharin, found in several food products from Thailand.
The bureau warned food exporters to observe Taiwan’s regulations, but the latest incident has prompted fears that Thai exports there may face stiffer restrictions or even a possible ban.
Some may consider Taiwan’s food safety regulations a protectionist measure against Thai products, especially as the stronger baht has caused farm commodity prices to rise. But whatever the reason may be, Thai exporters must tread with caution.
The saccharin incident shows how food safety remains a major concern for Thailand.
Saccharin, which is cheaper than sugar and 300 to 400 times sweeter, is commonly used by Thai food vendors and producers. Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has restricted its use in beverages but the agency conceded this is difficult to enforce due to its broad availability.
According to the website of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), saccharin was listed as a carcinogen in the 1970s, leading a number of countries to ban or restrict its consumption. In 1977, Canada banned the substance from its food products.
More recent health studies have de-linked saccharin from cancer, prompting the ban to be lifted. Canada did so in 2014. Yet some experts remain unconvinced and stress the importance of limiting its intake among infants, children and pregnant women.
As saccharin can again be used in the food industry, for example in low-calorie products, some health agencies have set an acceptable daily intake (ADI).
Authoritynutrition.com suggests that up to 5mg can safely be consumed for every kilogramme of body weight in both adults and children.
More importantly, consumers in the United States, Europe and other countries have been empowered by the use of food labels.
The European Union mandates that any saccharin added to food or beverages should be identified as E954 on the product’s nutritional label. This helps consumers make a more informed decision when shopping and serves their interests and health.
But Thailand still has a long way to go before it can catch up.
The fact is saccharin has served as a common food additive in our society for a very long time. Some food vendors, like noodle shops or fruit sellers, resort to this sugar substitute due to the belief it will make their products taste better at a low cost.
Given that saccharin is colourless and odourless, Thai consumers would be hard pressed to tell whether the food they are consuming contains it or not. This makes it that much harder for them to make healthy eating choices at the supermarket.
The FDA needs to work out stringent measures to protect consumers. Thailand’s dream of becoming a kitchen of the world will never be realised until food safety issues are finally laid to rest.