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Sun, Jan 14, 2001 - Page 2 News List

Officials rally to oysters' defense

FRESH START In a show of support for the local oyster industry, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou ate raw shellfish at the Taipei Fish Market yesterday, in an attempt to allay fears that some locally produced oysters are a major risk to public health

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Premier Chang Chun-hsiung, center, Chiayi County Commissioner Lee Ya-ching, right, and other government officials publicly consume oysters yesterday, refuting that oysters raised in 12 coastal areas in central Taiwan had been seriously polluted.

PHOTO: TSAI MING-YI, TAIPEI TIMES

While it is still unclear whether eating oysters is harmful to your health, government officials yesterday continued to eat them in public to calm consumer fears.

To show his support, Premier Chang Chun-hsiung (張俊雄) also visited Taiwan's biggest oyster production center -- Putai in Chiayi County.

In response to oyster farmers' complaints about slumping prices and local officials' requests to subsidize oyster farmers' losses, Chang said such a move might be difficult but added that he "empathizes with the oyster farmers."

Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) ate raw oysters during a seafood tasting activity held at the Taipei Fish Market (台北魚市) to encourage the public to eat oysters and other seafood.

"I guarantee you that all the oysters sold here are safe and meet official safety standards," Ma said.

The price of oysters has plummeted since local media reported on Tuesday that a study conducted by local researchers showed that oysters raised in certain coastal areas such as Hsiangshan (香山) in Hsinchu County and the offshore island group of Matsu (馬祖) had been seriously polluted.

The report also claimed that those who eat polluted oysters ran a high risk of contracting cancer.

Oysters sold at the Taipei Fish Market come from Putai.

Although the authors of the report later made a public apology by saying that a person runs a high risk of contracting cancer "if an individual continuously consumes at least 139g of oysters a day for 30 years," the news still sent shock waves throughout the oyster farming community and caused prices to plummet.

According to Chen Pei-chung (陳培昌), manager of the Taipei Fish Market, the market's daily trading volume of oysters has dropped from 100kg to 50kg, and the prices have dwindled from NT$100 per 0.6kg pack to NT$80 and now NT$45 a pack.

Despite the official affirmations, the central government needs to set up local safety standards for the amount of heavy metals allowed in aquatic products, said Shieh Dah-wen (謝大文), deputy director of Fisheries Administration of the Cabinet-level Council of Agriculture.

"We strongly urge the Cabinet's Department of Health to set safety standards for the levels of such heavy metals as copper and arsenic," Shieh said, adding that currently the only official standard established is for mercury.

Sheih added that the department would also like the Hsinchu County Government to tell their oyster farmers to avoid harvesting oysters in the winter.

According to Shieh, oysters grown in Hsiangshan are suspected of containing a dangerous concentration of copper during the winter, when the northeasterly wind is so strong that it stirs up the pollutants on the bottom of the sea floor.

The annual volume of oysters produced in Hsiangshan is about 43 tonnes, or 0.2 percent of the total volume of oysters sold in Taiwan.

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