by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Screenshot
CONTROVERSY ABOUT EGG IMPORTS has been ongoing in past months, leading to the resignation of Minister of Agriculture Chen Chi-chung, among others. Nevertheless, this has taken a new turn in the past days.
In particular, a contributing factor to Chen’s resignation was a series of death threats made against online influencer Lin Yu-hong, who runs an agriculture-focused Facebook page called Lin Bay. Lin shut down his page in preceding weeks, citing that he could no longer operate his page safely because of death threats.
This added to the furor against the DPP, in that the pan-Blue camp framed the DPP as potentially being behind the death threats.
To begin with, the DPP was framed by the pan-Blue camp as having mismanaged the agricultural sector, resulting in egg shortages. The DPP, however, stated that this was due to a number of factors including chickens having been culled due to the avian flu, the large number of molting chickens, and the seasonal temperature affecting the number of eggs that chickens lay daily. Price hikes and shortages often result in panic buying in Taiwan, as a result of which the public is highly sensitive to such issues.
The DPP carried out a number of measures afterward intended to address the fact that the number of eggs being produced in Taiwan was insufficient to meet demand. This included importing chickens and eggs, from Australia, Brazil, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Turkey.
This, too, came under fire. One supplier, Ultra Source, was questioned over that despite being allowed to import 88 million eggs despite only having a total capital of 500,000 NT. This would seem to suggest the possibility of corruption. More generally, the KMT alleged that the government favored large hypermarket retailers with its egg imports, though the government tried to negotiate between vendors, industry organizations, and suppliers.
After 20,000 eggs were recalled from PxMart once they expired, it emerged that 54 million eggs or 37% of all imported eggs, were destroyed because they had expired. The Ministry of Agriculture defended this by stating that it preferred not to affect the domestic market, but this contributed to the anger against agricultural authorities.
At the same time, some of the criticisms drew on disinformation. One widely circulated image showed green eggs that were alleged to be of egg imports from Brazil. This was a doctored image and the individual who was the origin of the photo was later questioned by police.
And while Lin Yu-hong’s claims about facing death threats added to the anger against the DPP, in the past week, police made an arrest regarding the threats. This turned out to be a man surnamed Hsu, who was found to have a background as a KMT party worker.
Hsu stated that he was, in fact, instructed by Lin to make the threats against him. Since this revelation, Lin has admitted to the media that the death threats against him were faked. As it transpires, then, the death threats were intended to make the DPP look bad.
The DPP is likely to lean into this fact in order to distract from previous anger regarding eggs, suggesting that this was also a manufactured controversy by the KMT intended to target the pan-Blue camp. But this would not be the only time that death threats have been suspected to be used for discrediting political actors in Taiwan, in that one side inflates threats against them, to discredit the other side as underhanded.
It is to be seen how the public reacts to this new twist in the Lin Bay saga. To date, the egg controversy has been one of the major stumbling blocks of the DPP in the campaign cycle, even though the DPP under William Lai otherwise seems positioned to take the presidency because of splits in the pan-Blue vote between Ko Wen-je, Terry Gou, and Hou You-yi. It is possible that further developments or spins on the story take place–or that this twist does not abate public anger against the DPP over eggs.