With the SARS epidemic that originated in China raging around Taiwan, lawmakers, academics and government officials yesterday warned the public of a greater threat from China -- imported agricultural produce and herbs that have been found to contain traces of toxic chemicals and do not comply with hygiene standards.
In a forum held by the Taiwan North Society yesterday on how to curb the importing of inferior Chinese food products, academics, lawmakers and officials from the government's food-inspection agencies said the public should be made aware of the dangers lurking in hygienically unsatisfactory agricultural produce, herbs and medicines that contain the remains of poisonous chemicals.
Leader of the society's medical group, Chang Shue-yih (張學逸), also chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology at National Yang Ming University, said "SARS poses an imminent and direct threat to public health in Taiwan now, but the public may not be aware that their health is also being slowly undermined by poisonous food imported from China."
Since the start of direct trade across the Taiwan Strait, more and more Chinese agricultural produce has been brought to Taiwan by travelers and the "small three links" agreement.
However, in addition to legal channels for importing food from China, underground business transactions such as smuggling have placed unhygienic or inferior foodstuffs on the market, officials said.
Lin Neng-jong (林能中), director general of the Bureau of Standards, Metrology and Inspection, which inspected all imported Chinese food, said such food imported from China, including agricultural produce, seafood, herbs and tea have frequently been found to contain excessive amounts of heavy metals, antibiotics, pesticides and germs.
"The rate at which Chinese imported foods are disqualified is on average one-and-a-half times higher than that of other countries," Lin said.
Society member Chen Yi-nan (
"What is worse is that the famous peanut candies in Kinmen might be made of poisonous Chinese peanuts. This really poses a great risk to the public's health," Chen said.
DPP lawmaker Lai Ching-te (