Food scandal: Restaurateur who passed off duck liver for foie gras has prison sentence commuted
The owner of a high-end teppanyaki restaurant in Kaohsiung City won an appeal to the Supreme Court, effectively reducing her penalty to a commutable prison sentence of 5 months from a previous 1 year, 6 month sentence for the crime of passing off duck liver as genuine foie gras, yesterday, May 13.
The legal saga began at lunchtime on September 19, 2016, when a man named Lu (盧) took his wife to the Cardial restaurant on Longde Road, Gushan District, Kaohsiung City.
According to testimony provided in subsequent court cases, Mr Lu spent a total of NT$7,216 (US$258) to treat himself and his wife with the genuine taste of foie gras as part of a “surf and turf set for two” which included “French foie gras and deep-sea lobster.”
However, around one month later Mr Lu read a post on Taiwan’s popular PTT bulletin board system from a former employee of the restaurant claiming that Cardial was passing off duck liver as genuine foie gras.
On October 20, 2016, the restaurant changed all of the references to “foie gras” on the menu to “duck liver.”
Mr Lu raised a law suit against the restaurant, during which the former employee testified that the restaurant had stipulated that the customers should only be told the foie gras was actually duck liver if the customer inquired.
A chef named Zhong (鍾) testified that since the restaurant had opened in 2013, genuine foie gras had never graced the establishment.
The restauranteur, named Lee, admitted that the restaurant had substituted duck liver for genuine foie gras, claiming that her upstream suppliers had told her that the liver of goose was too expensive, and was restricted from import into Taiwan due to “bird flu.”
The judge in the original court case found that the defendant had sold more than 3,500 meals claiming to contain “foie gras,” earning NT$15.58 million (US$557,085) in illegal earnings. It was ruled that Ms Lee had committed fraud, and had violated Article 49, Item 1 of the Food Safety Act. Ms Lee was sentenced to serve one year and six months in prison.
The Supreme Court determined yesterday that the purpose of Article 49 of the Food Safety Act is to prevent unscrupulous manufacturers to substitute inferior products for high-quality products, or to substitute artificial ingredients for natural ingredients.
According testimony from the Kaohsiung City Catering Union, duck liver is an alternative ingredient to goose liver in foreign cooking circles, and the price of the of goose liver versus duck liver of equivalent grade is not necessarily higher.
The Supreme Court ruling determined that the a case appears to constitute “inaccurate labeling, publicity, or advertising,” and did not violate the Food Safety Law, and should be sent back to the lower court for further investigation and clarification.
In the first instance, the sentence was reduced to 5 months and a fine of NT$150,000 (NT$5,363).
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