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Food safety makes up half of 2017 top ten consumer news: watchdog (Part 1)

By Stephanie Chao, the Eye on Taiwan staff writer

Food safety issues were highly concerned by the Taiwanese public and in fact, made up half of the top ten consumer news in 2017, the Consumers’ Foundation (消基會) said in a recent survey.

The online poll, conducted from Dec 26 to Jan 5 by the foundation, asked the respondents what were the consumer news they were most concerned.

The results indicated that in addition to food safety issues, most consumers felt negative about tour bus service, online shopping disputes and failure of some government agencies in protecting data involving personal security and privacy of the public.

Here are the results:

1. Tour bus crash that killed 33 people

On the night of Feb. 13 last year, a tour bus carrying elderly tourists visiting Wuling Farm overturned on a highway, killing 33 and injuring 11.

It was called the worse traffic accident in Taiwan in the past 30 years. The bus flipped over a barrier on the right side of a curve as it was exiting a ramp from National Freeway No. 5 to link to National Freeway No. 3.

Shilin Prosecutors’ Office announced on Sept 4 that the driver, who was killed in the crash, had been speeding. Prosecutors also deemed fatigue as one of the causes of the crash, finding the tourist company where the driver worked in violation of the Labor Standards Act.

Consumers’ Foundation later urged the Transportation Ministry to improve its safety regulations for the bus running. Instead, the ministry left it up to market mechanism and the consumers to face the outcomes. The foundation also urged the Control Yuan to investigate if any public servants neglected their duties.

In a previous press conference, the foundation had indicated that many tour buses employed by local tourist agencies which offered low-budget or one-day tour packages to tourists failed to meet safety standards.

Those tour buses, often old and not well-maintained, could only meet third or fourth-grade safety standards, according to the foundation.

2. Dioxin-tainted eggs

Dioxin-tainted eggs, carrying dioxin chemical levels as high as 5.2 pg/g, were found exceeding standards of 2.5 pg/g. The eggs came from a farm in the central county of Changhua, which was found using chicken feed that was tainted by the chemical, and supplied to a store in nearby Miaoli County.

What was chilling were how the tainted eggs were distributed nationwide and the lack of proactive oversight and regulation from the Council of Agriculture. The foundation added that the negative effects of dioxin on the human body were hard to detect, thereby exposing the public to danger if no regulations were in place.

While the confiscated products and chickens were destroyed and culled, the Consumers’ Foundation urged the government to instill a comprehensive system to set up a database that can trace the egg products from their origins to the supply chains.

3. Government agencies’ personal database hacked

In March, the foundation cited four major instances of hacking of government agencies, leading to the leak of 130,000 items of personal information in the past year.

The Taipei City’s Department of Information Technology reported having the most serious attack,  with 70,000 items of personal information hacked, followed by the Labor Ministry, Chunghwa Post, and the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

If all individuals affected by the attacks were to sue the government through the Consumers’ Foundation on the grounds of violating the “Personal Information Protection Act,” the government could end up paying NT$68 million in compensation.

The foundation urged government agencies to step up their database protection, and the Ministry of Justice should also proactively launch investigations into the hacking cases.

4. Online shopping disputes on Facebook 

The popularity of online social media has led to abundant scams, for example, Facebook. According to a report released by Taipei City’s Department of Legal Affairs, online shops are using Facebook ads to lure users to buy their products, yet fail to provide contact information.

Should any disputes arise, consumers are often left without any channels to appeal. Ombudsman also added that as Facebook is not a primarily “online shopping platform,” there are no security measures in place that could protect buyers’ personal information.

The foundation added that online scammers use the payment method of “pay upon receiving goods” to earn consumers’ trust. Once consumers receive their packages and find that there are problems, there are no methods to contact the online shops, making refunds difficult to achieve.

Consumers should avoid buying from online shops that lack any reviews, contact information and take note of package retrieval, refund methods, and shipping costs, and avoid providing personal information through messaging apps, which could increase the likelihood of having their information sold to scam groups.

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