This scandal has been slowly brewing over the past week, and I’m kind of surprised that nobody has commented on it yet:
I admit that I didn’t know anything about cottonseed oil (other than it comes from cottonseeds) until yesterday when I started googling it.
It’s actually very unhealthy stuff. The first concern is whether or not it contains gossypol - which can be removed - which is known to damage the human reproductive system. It’s claimed that the oil sold in Taiwan had the gossypol removed, but that isn’t the only issue with cottonseed oil. It’s also way too high in saturated fat and too low in mono-unsaturated fat, and is thus about the most unhealthy cooking oil you could eat (leading to heart problems, strokes, etc). A further issue is that it may contain high levels of pesticide residue, since cotton is not a food crop and thus isn’t subject to the usual regulations concerning pesticides sprayed on food.
Apparently, the Chang Chi Foodstuff Factory Company knowing mislabeled cottonseed oil as canola, sunflower, etc, and even took steps to chemically alter the oil to hide what they were doing from government food inspectors.
So yes, they deserve to be prosecuted.
Now the interesting part - I looked to see what the status of cottonseed oil is in the USA (which is where Chang Chi’s oil was imported from). As it turns out, there is plenty of cottonseed oil sold in the USA. It’s often added to snack foods, and the fine print on the label will say something like “may contain one or more of the following oils: canola, safflower, corn, sunflower, palm, cottonseed…”
As it turns out, whenever the label says that, it’s 100% certain that it will be cottonseed oil, because it’s the cheapest oil of all by a wide margin. If they weren’t using cottonseed oil, they wouldn’t mention it, but they hope you won’t notice by burying it among other possible candidate cooking oils.
Very closely related to the above: the labels on food products in the USA that declare “0% trans-fats.” As it turns out, that’s a big lie. The US FDA allows this label for any food that contains .49 grams or less of trans-fat per serving. So how big is a serving? If a normal serving of peanut butter is a tablespoon, it might (I’m making this number up for illustration) contain 1.0 grams of trans-fat. But if we define the serving size as one teaspoon, it will be less than 0.5 grams which means it’s 0% in FDA-speak. See:
In short, easy as it is to criticize food practices in Taiwan, I wouldn’t go looking to the USA (which many here do) as a shining example of food product safety. I think that Taiwan overall does a better job of policing the food industry than many supposedly more developed countries. But obviously, all is not perfect here.