Fri, May 04, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Court convicts bagel shop owner over poppy seeds

By Irene Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Poppy seed, a popular flavoring for bagels made in US bakeries, has been judged to be an "illegal drug" by the Taiwan High Court.

An owner of a bagel shop in Taipei has been found guilty of importing opium poppy seeds and was handed a three-month suspended sentence for her crime. The store in question is the Marco Polo Bakery, located on Chungching South Road, Taipei.

The High Court, reversing a not-guilty verdict already given by a lower court, convicted Chuo Liu Ching-ti (卓劉慶弟) in accordance with the Drugs Hazard Prevention Act, which outlaws the possession of opium poppies and seeds.

The court found that Chuo, age 66, had purchased over 22kg of the poppy seeds in January last year from US-based Valente Yeast through a friend residing in the US. Chuo said bakers employed at her shop had requested the seeds in response to demand from customers.

The customs officials, who informed law enforcement officials of the import, told the court that the import documentation for the shipment described the contents as "poppy seed."

According to the court, investigating agents allowed the packages to be delivered to their destination, and subsequently raided the bagel shop following delivery.

In defense, Chuo contended that there are over 500 species of poppy plant and that she did not know the poppy seed in question was derived from Papaver somniferum, a type of opium poppy.

She further said that the US-based supplier had told her that poppy-flavored bagels are very popular in US, second only to plain bagels and sesame-flavored bagels.

The Taipei District Court previously determined in January that Chuo was not guilty because she did not know the imported seed came from a kind of opium poppy banned in Taiwan.

However, the High Court dismissed the not-guilty decision on the grounds that it was not justifiable for a bakery owner not to know what opium poppy seeds look like -- because they are so widely used by bakeries.

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