King-Town Rice Co (金墩米), one of the nation’s top five small-packaged rice suppliers, confirmed the veracity of a local media report yesterday that it has recalled its products over pesticide residue concerns.
The Chinese-language Apple Daily reported yesterday that the Changhua-based company had advised supermarkets and hypermarkets earlier this week to remove 21 different types of King-Town packaged rice from their shelves, because the products might contain excessive levels of fenitrothion and phenthoate.
As of Thursday evening, at least 120 tonnes of King-Town rice had been taken off store shelves at the nation’s three biggest hypermarket chains, the Chinese-language daily said.
Hsiao Yi-ho (蕭益和), a King-Town executive, said the company discovered high levels of pesticides in its rice stocks during a spot check in the middle of last month and, by the end of the month, had identifed the warehouse from which the problematic product was distributed.
“We immediately informed downstream distributors, such as hypermarts and supermarket chains, and recalled our small-packaged rice,” Hsiao said.
The contaminated rice was from the first harvest this year, which totaled 500 metric tonnes, Hsiao said, adding that about 120 tonnes had either been recalled or will soon be taken out of various distribution channels.
This means that 380 tonnes of tainted rice have already been bought by consumers, he said.
“Consumers may return the rice to distributors or contact us via the toll-free telephone number printed on the packages,” Hsiao said.
The batch of contaminated rice came from Changhua, but the company still has not precisely identified the supplier because it has partnerships with many contract farmers, Hsiao said.
According to agricultural experts, harvesting of rice crops should be delayed for at least 21 days after the use of the pesticides fenitrothion and phenthoate.
Because of the rainy weather earlier this year, farmers may have rushed to harvest their crops before the 21-day period ended, thus resulting in contamination of their rice crop, the experts said.
The Council of Agriculture’s (COA) Agriculture and Food Agency Director Li Tsang-lang (李蒼郎) yesterday said the percentage of rice with pesticide residues sold in the market is quite low, according to sample testing.
He added that “most of the sample test results were qualified, so consumers can rest assured on this part. Because polished rice (白米) already has its husk or outer brown layers removed, the chances of pesticide residue [on the rice] are very low.”
Further investigation on whether the pesticide levels exceeded standards need to be carried out, the agency’s deputy director Chen Chien-pin (陳建斌) said, adding it would cooperate with the Department of Health (DOH) to test more samples of rice sold on the market
According to Chen, the examination results of nine samples sent to the agency for testing this year by the company were all qualified.
COA Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) said a task force has been formed to investigate the case.
The council is conducting more tests to clearly identify the substances in King-Town’s rice, he said, adding that the COA has taken control of 1,000 tonnes of problematic rice in the King-Town warehouse, pending a further investigation.
Under existing food safety regulations, the Agriculture and Food Agency monitors whether rice plants and rice crops sold to the government contain excessive levels of pesticides, but the DOH is responsible for checking the quality of rice sold on the local market.
Tsai Shu-chen (蔡淑貞), a DOH section chief in charge of food safety, said her department mainly checks whether farm produce contains heavy metals and mycotoxins.
“In the future, we will include pesticide residues in our tests,” she said.
King-Town Co is a leading brand in the long-grain-rice market, but accounts for only about 10 percent of total domestic rice sales, according to the Chinese-language Apple Daily.
The recall of contaminated King-Town rice is not expected to affect the domestic rice supply or rice prices because of its relatively limited market share, the paper said, citing market sources.