Wed, Dec 15, 2004 - Page 10 News List

Smuggled food poses health threat

CROSS-STRAIT TRADE Checks on Chinese dried foodstuffs smuggled into Kinmen show higher levels of chemicals and preservatives, a consumer group says

By Jackie Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Members of the Control Yuan yesterday inspect a sampling of products from China that had been smuggled into Kinmen through the ''small three links.'' The samples were collected and tested by the Consumers' Foundation and many of the products were found to have excessive levels of heavy metals and preservatives.


None of the China-produced agricultural foodstuffs shipped to Kinmen this year went through the government's examination procedures, a consumer advocacy group said yesterday.

As an increasing amount of Chinese agricultural produce is being brought to Taiwan by travelers after the "small three links" agreement was introduced, the Consumers' Foundation (消基會) said the legal loophole must be addressed to avoid health risks posed by smuggled products.

Government regulations allow 1,710 types of Chinese agricultural produce into the outlying islands of Kinmen through legal channels. But sources in the Council of Agriculture said that all the Chinese foodstuffs peddled to Kinmen residents and tourists are illegal imports.

"The government has been acting like an ostrich in dealing with the booming trade between Kinmen and China," said Jason Lee (李鳳翱), chairman of the Consumers' Foundation (消基會). "It should implement customs measures to suit local circumstances to help reduce smuggling incidents."

The foundation also noted that underground business transactions such as smuggling have placed unhygienic or inferior foodstuffs on the market, raising concerns that consumers might take in high levels of chemical substances used for goods manufacturing.

With the Lunar New Year approaching, many consumers from Taiwan proper like to purchase low-priced new year goods -- such as dried farm produce, dried aquatic products, pickled foodstuffs and peanut candies -- from Kinmen. But a majority of such commodities are trafficked from China without going through regular inspections.

Rampant smuggling can be attributed to the extensive paperwork and food safety checks Kinmen's importers are required to follow before they can do business on the islands, where the economic scale is small, the foundation's secretary-general Terry Huang (黃怡騰) said.

Indeed, following the opening of the "small three links" between Kinmen and Matsu and China, the government has set up inspection stations on both Kinmen and Matsu, aiming to conduct inspection and quarantine operations for imports of animals, plants and related products from China.

The "small three links" plan -- allowing trade, transport and communication links between China and Taiwan's outlying islands -- was launched on Jan. 1, 2001.

But vendors like to circumvent such legal channels and instead conduct transactions directly with Chinese fishermen on boats, in a bid to stay competitive and save time, Huang said.

The result is that the foundation has found that an alarmingly high ratio of dried foodstuffs have high levels of heavy metals and pesticides. In total, around 1,000 tonnes of such foodstuffs -- considered illegal in Taiwan -- have been shipped to the outlying islands, it added.

The non-profit organization brought back 35 items of dried food from Kinmen in June and July this year, and another 33 items of fresh foodstuffs and tea leaves at the end of last month for food safety checks.

Test of samples found that shark's fin bought on the island had excessive residues of hydrogen peroxide, Brazilian mushrooms contained cadmium and mercury, and Western medicines had been mixed with Chinese aphrodisiac medicines, which could potentially have adverse side effects or contain poisonous elements.

Aside from the dried foodstuffs, the foundation found that only 12.5 percent of samples of animal, fish, vegetable, tea leaf and rice wine products were problematic, a ratio it said is similar to Taiwanese markets.

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