by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Edithobayaa1/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 4.0

AFTER MUCH DRAMA in past weeks, Minister of Agriculture Chen Chi-chung resigned from his post yesterday night.

This ended several years by Chen in his post, who previously served as head of the Council of Agriculture before its upgrading to a ministry in August of this year after legislation passed in May. In his Facebook post about his resignation, Chen emphasized his background in the agricultural sector, and that in his position as Minister of Agriculture, he had only sought to assist farmers and fishermen, and that he had sought to balance the interests of farmers and consumers. Lin Tsung-hsien, chair of the National Animal Industry Foundation, also resigned.

Chen resigned in the wake of controversy over eggs that has rocked Taiwan in past weeks. In particular, egg shortages began to affect Taiwan in February. This was due to a number of factors which included avian flu wiping out chickens, the large number of molting hens, increases in the price of chicken feed, and changes in the temperature that affect the number of chickens that have eggs daily.

Chen Chi-chung’s Facebook post announcing his resignation

Consequently, the number of eggs produced in Taiwan was not adequate to meet the daily supply of eggs consumed, with 1.03 million chickens culled due to COVID-19. Nevertheless, the pan-Blue camp attacked this as an issue of mismanagement by the Tsai administration, with pan-Blue outlets framing egg prices under the Tsai administration as 4.5 times that of during the preceding KMT Ma administration. To this extent, during this period, fake PTT accounts were found to be acting in a coordinated manner to spread disinformation about the egg shortages.

The Tsai administration sought to alleviate these shortages by importing 50,000 chickens, as well as importing 30 million eggs in April and May. In subsequent months, millions of eggs would be imported from Brazil, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Turkey, and the government intervened in the market mechanisms by covering the difference in prices between imported eggs and domestically procured eggs. Agricultural authorities also sought to mediate in disputes between sellers and the Poultry Association, in that egg sellers reacted against price freezes from the Poultry Association.

Nevertheless, the Ministry of Agriculture came under fire because of importer Ultra Source, which was allowed to import 88 million eggs despite a capital of 500,000 NT. Though the Ministry of Agriculture asserted that there was no wrongdoing, this was seen as potentially indicating corruption, and this was honed in on by the pan-Blue camp. The KMT sought to allege that the government’s egg import scheme benefited a select few hypermarkets, though this also reflects to what extent the Taiwanese economy is reliant on a small number of franchise chains with many locations for distributing goods. Ironically, the KMT would be attacking what was purported to be an act of corruption similar to what took place during the authoritarian period by way of “black gold” corruption, with the KMT having historically dominated the agricultural industry through its stranglehold on irrigation associations and farmer’s associations.

DPP presidential candidate William Lai (center). Photo credit: William Lai/Facebook

Likewise, later on, 20,000 eggs were recalled from PxMart and destroyed after being found to be labeled with the incorrect expiration date. Subsequently, it emerged that 54 million eggs, constituting around 37% of all imported eggs, had been destroyed after expiring. The Ministry of Agriculture stated that it destroyed the eggs to protect domestic production after egg production in Taiwan began to rebound, even if this was a waste of 6.25 million USD of taxpayers’ money.

It was in the wake of the political firestorm that followed that Chen resigned. In particular, the DPP may have hoped for a quick resignation by Chen in order to prevent the scandal from affecting the upcoming presidential elections, similar to how deputy secretary-general Lin Fei-fan resigned to take responsibility for the wave of #MeToo cases that broke out in March in the DPP, despite no personal wrongdoing on Lin’s part. This would be a lesson that the DPP took to heart after plagiarism scandals affecting DPP candidates impacted 2022 local elections. Indeed, the Taiwanese public has often proved to be sensitive to price hikes for consumer products ranging from toilet paper to COVID-19 rapid tests and Panadol, as well as resultant shortages, and so it is easy to see why the public would be so sensitive regarding price hikes for eggs or egg shortages.

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