Layer chicken is an important part of the poultry industry in the country. Previously, Taiwan's domestic egg production was utterly self-sufficient. Recently, however, the country has produced fewer eggs due to culling of the island's hen flocks owing to seasonal avian influenza virus infections and low egg demands due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in the summer of 2021. The government of Taiwan has initiatives and achievements as well as future plans and tasks related to the egg production system. This paper overviews the poultry egg production traceability system in Taiwan. Among other things, it includes: (1) the Promotion of traceability labelling for non-packed (bulk) fresh eggs; (2) Promoting product traceability and refining certification management of agricultural products; and (3) Promoting an agricultural product traceability system to strengthen the responsibility of agricultural product operators. The traceability system is an important component in the poultry egg industry which can ensure producers and consumers to comply with the required standards.
Keywords: poultry egg, production, traceability, Taiwan
Layer chicken is an important part of the poultry industry in Taiwan. One thousand and nine hundred farms are rearing 42,566,000 layers with an annual output of about NT$19.1 billion (US$32.4 million) (Yuh Lin et al., 2022). Daily egg production ranges from 80,000 to 85,000 crates, each weighing 12 kg and containing approximately 200 eggs. Due to the advancement in production technology and increased market demand, poultry farming has witnessed a rapid growth over the past two decades. In other words, domestic egg production is entirely self-sufficient (CoA, 2021a).
The vast majority of Taiwan's egg production is consumed domestically. Each of Taiwan's 23 million consumers eats 347 eggs annually. Egg production and per capita consumption of eggs and products have increased by 22% over the past decade (USDA, 2022). However, Taiwan's table egg prices surged in January 2022 amid extreme shortages. Taiwan officials revealed that layers traditionally produce fewer eggs with shorter daylight during winter, and it has been a particularly grey/rainy winter and spring. Farmers who were reluctant to equip and provide light to on-farm hens eventually received less production during the winter/spring seasons. Besides, high feed prices induced by supply chain disruption discourage farmers from placing more layers. As a result, far fewer eggs are being laid.
Moreover, the culling of the island's hen flocks owing to seasonal avian influenza virus infections and low egg demands due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in the summer of 2021 affected egg production. Hence, this paper aims to overview Taiwan's poultry egg production system. It simply focuses on traceability systems in the country.
A GLIMPSE OF POULTRY EGG PRODUCTION
While rising egg prices and supply shortages sparked mudslinging across political parties, the issue spread among Taiwanese, with people sparring over whether they could track down eggs. However, food shortages are not a problem in Taiwan but a global issue.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have affected two major wheat-exporting countries: Russia and Ukraine. The global food trade has fallen into turmoil, leading to a sharp rise in feed and fodder prices. Farmers have also had to cope with chicken moulting in winter and a global avian influenza outbreak, which led to a shortage of chickens globally, including in Taiwan, Japan, and the US.
In Taiwan, the number of egg-laying hens plummeted from 44,920,000 to 32,040,000 by the end of last year. Although there are still about 30 million chickens laying eggs – a number that should keep up with demand – the steep cut of more than 10 million chickens has had an impact on egg supply, resulting in higher egg prices, “cheap” eggs selling out and restaurants changing menus to cut down on egg usage.
The government cannot control external factors. It can only attempt to curb the avian flu outbreak. Food shortages are a global issue. People in the UK are struggling to buy tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, and the shortage there could last for a month. While restaurants have struggled to keep salad on the menu, rising food costs have put mounting pressure on industrial workers, many of whom have gone on strike to demand a pay raise.
Taiwan is one of the few countries that has had relatively stable food prices during this crisis. War, climate change, and other factors have rendered food security more precarious. The government must come up with short and long-term strategies. On the issue of eggs, imports can solve the problem only temporarily. If it becomes the solution to every price surge, chicken farmers would be dissuaded from further investment in their farms due to a lack of profit. Local supply would plummet, and the government would not be able to address the source of the problem.
The Taiwan’s government use import funds to help chicken farmers upgrade their production tool and equipment; as well as the Council of Agriculture (COA) implemented official and non-official measures to pressure retailers regarding prices. The cost of feed and decisions about whether to import – including how much, at what price and from where – were under the total control of the COA. Under normal circumstances, the COA keeps things afloat. However, when it comes to unexpected global shocks, the COA is backed against a wall, as it has to put restrictions in place every step of the way. Initially, when there was a global surge in the price of poultry feed, the COA took strict but lenient steps to keep egg prices under control.
Although this move had the public's interest at heart, chicken farmers were unwilling to raise more chickens due to high costs and low profits. With the drop in chicken supply and the ensuing shortage of eggs, skyrocketing egg prices have shown that tight control of the market was not a wise move.
Global circumstances have made it more difficult for the government to manage the market. To get through dire situations, the government must rely on the free market and make adjustments when needed. It should also educate the public to prepare for fluctuating prices. If lawmakers could constructively debate the egg issue, the nation would benefit.
Essentially, the government of Taiwan has initiatives and achievements as well as future plans and tasks related to the poultry production system, including layer chicken (Table 1).
There are several categories of fresh chicken eggs for human consumption sold on the market in Taiwan, based on the nature of the production and marketing supply chain for fresh eggs. These include ordinary fresh eggs (non-packed eggs, washed and graded eggs) and, based on the Agricultural Production and Certification Act, certified premium fresh eggs (Certified Agricultural Standards, or CAS, eggs) and Traceable Agricultural Products (TAP) eggs.
Packaging and labelling of each category of fresh chicken eggs
The production and marketing system for fresh chicken eggs in Taiwan is based mainly on non-packed eggs (loose eggs in plastic crates, also known as bulk eggs). Non-packed eggs are not washed and graded; egg farmers place eggs collected from henhouses directly into plastic crates and turn these over to egg dealers (or transport firms) for direct sale to consumer outlets. Non-packed eggs are mainly sold to traditional dry goods shops, breakfast shops, the food and beverage industry, bakeries, and group meal providers and account for over 50% of the egg market. Based on the provisions of the Act Governing Food Safety and Sanitation, when eggs are considered to be non-packed (bulk) foods, the places of display and sale of eggs for food businesses that have company registration or business registration (such as convenience stores, stores, and supermarkets) must erect a sign indicating the food item and place (country) of production; there is no need for such a sign at other locations.
Eggs packed in plastic or cardboard and sold in convenience stores, supermarkets, and hypermarkets are all washed and graded eggs. Washed and graded eggs are mainly packaged in 10-egg boxes, although there are now smaller egg boxes (4-egg, 8-egg) for small families. The current labelling modalities for the source of washed and graded eggs sold on the market include: (1) Only indicating the place of production; (2) Indicating the name of the company, and (3) Indicating the name of the company as well as the source livestock farm of the eggs.
Chicken egg producers or processors must apply to a certification body approved by the Council of Agriculture (COA) for CAS fresh egg or TAP certification and receive approval from that certification body before they can put CAS or TAP labels on their packaging. Based on the standards for CAS certification of fresh eggs, CAS eggs must be washed and graded; the production environment, machinery and equipment, and egg quality must all conform to certification standards; and their packaging and labelling must be done on the basis of certification standards. Packaging for CAS eggs sold on the market includes 10 boxes and 240 egg cardboard crates (with eight trays per crate and 30 eggs per tray). In addition, sources of raw eggs used by CAS fresh egg businesses are divided into livestock farm producers who produce their own finished egg products and egg product processors who purchase eggs from outside sources (at present there are only two of the latter in Taiwan, Mr. Wu Egg and TNEGG). The labelling on the packaging of both CAS and TAP egg products must indicate the source livestock farm of the raw eggs.
The comprehensive promotion of traceability labelling for non-packed (bulk) fresh eggs
Considering that chicken eggs are an essential product in the diets of Taiwanese consumers, the COA has aimed to upgrade egg quality and safeguard the health of citizens. In the past, there was no traceability labelling on the crates of non-packed eggs, so each time a case was discovered of eggs sold on the market having drug or chemical residues in violation of standards, it was impossible to trace the source livestock farm of the eggs and enhance source management and guidance at the farm in question. Therefore, since September 1, 2015, the COA has comprehensively promoted a system of traceability labelling for non-packed eggs, and each crate of non-packed eggs must have an egg traceability label attached by the layer hen farm. Only with such a label can the eggs be transferred to transport companies or egg dealers. Traceability labels must include the name of the eggs' source farm, a QR code, the livestock farm's individual traceability code, and the use-by date of the eggs. Consumers can swipe with their mobile phones to go to the Taiwan Egg Traceability System to immediately access information about the eggs' source farm. In addition, the COA assigns personnel to visit layer hen farms and consumer sales endpoints to undertake sample testing of egg quality. These measures enable consumers to eat domestically produced eggs confidently and safely.
In addition, to advance egg traceability label management, since September 1 of 2019, the COA has launched a trial program of using ink-jet printing to print a traceability code and the date of washing and grading on washed and graded eggs, giving priority in this trial program to domestically produced washed and graded fresh eggs supplied to schools for nutritious lunches. The current traceability labelling and new ink-jet printing systems will be used concurrently during the trial period. This will make it easier to differentiate eggs and avoid confusion and deception and facilitate the accomplishment of auditing and approval tasks for eggs purchased by schools for nutritious lunches (COA, 2021b).
The agricultural Production and Certification Act is amended to promote product traceability and refine certification management of agricultural products
The President of Taiwan promulgated the Agricultural Production and Certification Act (APCA) on January 29, 2007. From 2011 through 2014, there were a number of incidents in Taiwan related to things like food sanitation and safety and inaccurate labelling, drawing concerns from across the society. The Council of Agriculture (COA), in order to continue to enhance agricultural products' safety and quality, completed the construction of a traceability system and three-tiered quality control system, and comprehensively reviewed and improved production management for agricultural products, drafted amendments to the APCA. On December 25, 2019, the President promulgated an amended text of the APCA with 38 articles. Besides Article 18, governing the registration of primary processing facilities for agricultural products, which took effect from the day of promulgation, the remaining articles are to take effect one year after promulgation. The new Act aims to protect citizens' health and the rights and interests of consumers (COA, 2019).
Announcing an appropriate labelling and certification system for agricultural products, creating a sound management system
The existing Certified Agricultural Standards (CAS) system for premium agricultural products and the Traceable Agricultural Products (TAP) certification system has been in place for several years. The brand image of these labels has earned the trust and support of agricultural product operators and consumers. The COA gave priority to announcing that the rights and interests of those who have received CAS or TAP certification will not be affected by the amended APCA. The COA will continue to refine agricultural product certification systems to strengthen agricultural product production's management, quality, and safety and ensure consumer confidence and farmers' incomes.
Promoting third-party accreditation and getting in line with international standards, with the government responsible for supervision and management
A third-party certification system has been adopted in line with international approaches to agricultural product labelling and certification to implement the separate operations of legally-mandated management and certification systems. Moreover, a three-tiered quality control system is being implemented. Accreditation of agricultural product certification bodies has been turned over to private bodies that participate in International Accreditation Forums and have signed Multilateral Recognized Agreements in the field of product certification. The government, meanwhile, is responsible for supervision and management. The COA has researched and drafted the "Regulations for Approving and Supervising Certified Agricultural Accreditation Bodies," promoting third-party accreditation and certification in line with international practices, while the government is responsible for supervision and management and no longer needs to handle the work of accreditation bodies, making the division of powers and responsibilities between the public and private sectors more clear.
Promoting an agricultural product traceability system to strengthen the responsibility of agricultural product operators
To increase the market share of traceable agricultural products, protect consumers' right to know, strengthen the responsibility of agricultural product operators, and promote "local production, local consumption" and the differentiation of imported and domestic agricultural products, the amended APCA includes rules for agricultural product traceability systems and adds penalty provisions. Moreover, when necessary, it authorizes the central competent authority to require the provision of legally stipulated traceability data for specified agricultural products or agricultural product operators of a specific scale as announced by the central competent authority. Through data provided on agricultural product production and traceability platforms established by the government, consumers can search for immediate information and report problems in real time. They can work together with the government to ensure food safety. The goals are to strengthen the traceability management of agricultural products and enhance the self-management responsibility of producers while also providing consumers with peace of mind and protecting their rights and interests.
Building a registration system for primary processing facilities for agricultural products, enhancing production standards and advancing consumer trust
Small farmers need help getting factory registration for the primary processing of agricultural products, which makes it impossible for these products to go on sale in sales channels. To solve this problem, the COA has adopted the principle of graded management and has incorporated the management of agricultural product primary processing facilities into the amended APCA. The COA has constructed a registration system for such primary processing facilities in hopes of guiding these facilities to conform to food safety and sanitation management regulations, thereby enhancing production standards and advancing consumer trust. It is estimated that the annual production value of processed agricultural products can be increased by roughly NT$2 billion, (US$64.16 million) and the volume of processed agricultural products can be raised to 75,000 metric tons per year. These steps will stabilize production and consumption and increase the overall production value of the agricultural sector.
Improving sanitation and safety of livestock products
In order to protect the health and the rights of consumers while at the same time ensuring the incomes of livestock businesses, the Council of Agriculture (COA) is using the following relevant measures to produce livestock products free from sanitation and safety concerns.
Emphasizing the unique features of local products, strengthening R&D of local products
Using advanced technologies, including breeding and genetics, animal-raising management, quality control, and biotechnology, the COA is continuing to strengthen research into the unique features of high-quality local livestock and poultry products and is establishing and promoting relevant quality norms in order to raise the quality of local livestock and poultry products.
Expanding sanitary and safe production and product certification systems for livestock and poultry products
Having completed the amending of the Agricultural Production and Certification Act, the COA continues to uphold and upgrade the trustworthiness of certification systems for premium quality and traceability (such as Certified Agricultural Standards, or CAS, Traceable Agricultural Products, or TAP) that are already popular with consumers. The COA is also encouraging and educating consumers to purchase certified products, to create an incentive for livestock businesses to participate in these certification systems, and from there, to comprehensively upgrade the sanitation, safety, and quality of livestock and poultry products. CAS and TAP labels set out quality specifications and requirements for agricultural and food products. In addition, they offer traceability of domestic agricultural products used as raw materials, indicate that products meet requirements for sanitation and safety, and ensure that packaging and labelling are complete and clear. These features protect the rights and interests of both producers and consumers. Moreover, to strengthen production management responsibility at livestock and poultry farms, the COA is promoting QR Code labels for livestock and poultry products, through which consumers can access information about the source farm.
Upgrading testing technology and capabilities, strengthening feed testing and management
The COA is also collecting and utilizing data related to the sanitation and safety of livestock and poultry products to upgrade the testing technology and capabilities of relevant organizations and is guiding companies and livestock producers to implement self-management to ensure the quality of the materials used to raise livestock and poultry, thereby protecting the safety of domestic consumers.
Since 2007, the COA, acting based on the "Agricultural Production and Certification Act," has been promoting the Traceable Agricultural Products (TAP) system. It is based on core values of agriproduct safety and traceability, sustainability of the agricultural environment, and information transparency. The system's certification standards are risk management, batch management, traceability records, and entering information into the system, which producers are guided to apply in their operations. In addition, the TAP system incorporates an international third-party certification system that is both professional and fair, with certification bodies accredited as meeting international standards using methods that include document reviews, on-site audits, and sample testing to give certifications to producers and businesses who meet certification standards. There are also follow-up checks and sample tests of products on the market to ensure continued compliance with those standards. Following regulations, those who have received TAP certification can use the TAP logo on their products. The products must be labelled with the name of the certification organization, the product name, a traceability code, and the official government website to make it easier for consumers to distinguish these products in the marketplace and to search for information about them. Categories of TAP-certified products include grains and other staple foods, livestock products, aquaculture products, and various kinds of processed products provided for daily consumption by the general public.
International third-party certification to ensure certification quality
Certification quality is critical to ensuring the credibility of any certification system. After studying international trends, the COA introduced a third-party certification system for the TAP system. These third-party certification bodies must conform to international standards for product certification organizations (ISO/IEC 17065) and to conditions specified by the COA for their personnel and testing laboratories. Besides applying to the COA for accreditation, they must also, after passing a COA review, apply for and pass an evaluation in a relevant field from a specified evaluation body that has signed a Multilateral Recognition Agreement through the International Accreditation Forum. Under this system, the COA can ensure that certification organizations can provide fair and professional certification services and will be internationally recognized.
Besides ensuring the proper functioning of the accreditation system, the COA (the Competent Authority in this area), acting based on the provisions of the Agricultural Production and Certification Act, conducts inspections and does sample testing of the producers' products and businesses dealing in TAP-certified agriproducts. Using a system of multiple checks, sample testing is conducted each year on 1,800 items of TAP-certified agriproducts, with over 99% proving to be up to standards, indicating that certification quality for TAP agriproducts is sound and stable.
Building a guidance system to assist farmers in applying for certification
As of the end of 2020, a total of 3,311 producers and businesses had received TAP certification, and they were producing 12,113 metric tons of goods per month. In terms of the scale of certified operations, there were 37,010 hectares of land growing TAP-certified grains and other staple foods, 9,363 head of TAP-certified livestock being raised, and an area of 2,356 hectares of TAP-certified aquaculture ponds. Currently, 15 TAP certification bodies accept applications from farmers for certification services.
In order to improve farmers' compliance with TAP norms, shorten the learning curve, and accelerate the certification process, since 2014, the COA has subsidized the Agriculture Planning and Developing Research Center at National Taiwan University to offer training for TAP guidance personnel. About 356 TAP guidance personnel currently specialize in areas that include grains and other staple crops, seafood products, and processing and provide on-site guidance services to farmers (COA, 2021c).
Strengthening marketing – reaching consumers
The COA has continually adopted various methods to promote TAP-certified products, including promotional activities at sales channels, TAP-themed markets, matchmaking business meetings, and TAP restaurants. The COA's goal is to enable consumers to understand the unique features of the TAP system, including its content and environmental friendliness, to get them to purchase TAP-certified agriproducts. At the moment, hypermarkets and supermarkets in Taiwan all sell a variety of TAP-certified products, including fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood, meat products, eggs, and dairy products. Acceptance of the TAP system has been steadily increasing year by year among consumers, driving retail outlets to sell TAP-certified products and raising the willingness of farmers to apply for certification.
Promoting the TAP system for agriproducts can help Taiwan achieve multiple goals, including protecting the rights and interests of consumers, maintaining a sustainable agricultural environment, marketing agriproducts, and managing food products. In the future, the COA will continue to work in the direction of implementing the TAP system easier, making TAP certification more beneficial, and upholding system values and certification quality (COA, 2021d).
Through the Council of Agriculture, Taiwan’s government has given the country regulations for protecting food safety, poultry health, sustainable food supply chains, and traceability systems. Therefore, the issue of Avian Flu which hits the domestic egg supply is a challenge, an external factor that could become a global issue. Taiwan’s government is optimistic about creating better national food safety and food security.
The traceability system is an important component in the poultry egg industry. It can be implemented by promoting the labelling for non-packed (bulk) fresh eggs and refining certification management of agricultural products to strengthen the responsibility of agricultural product operators. Above all, those can ensure comsumers’ right to know and producers to comply with the required standards of poultry egg production.
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