Tue, Sep 16, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Concern over GM papayas raised by Jao

HEALTH RISK?Democratic progressive party legislator eugene jao said that taiwan has become a victim of genetically-modified papayas rather than a benefactor:

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Eugene Jao, right, yesterday criticizes the Council of Agriculture at a press conference for its failure in regulating genetically modified papaya seedlings in lab fields as GM papayas have been found on the market.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Legislators and environmentalists criticized the Council of Agriculture yesterday for failing to regulate genetically modified (GM) papaya seedlings in lab fields after the Cabinet's Department of Health discovered two GM papayas growing in Taichung County.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Eugene Jao (趙永清) said this posed a risk to the health of consumers.

According to Jao, the agriculture council commenced research in 1998 into the development of papayas resistant to the devastating papaya ring spot virus.

One of the laboratories working on this is in Wufeng Township, Taichung County. The health department inspectors also discovered GM papayas growing in Wufeng in 2001.

"Rather than benefiting from the scientific research, we have become victims," Jao said at a press conference yesterday.

Huang Shan-ney (黃山內), director of the council's Food and Agriculture Department, said the council had not released any GM papaya seedlings to farmers.

Eric Liou (劉銘龍), secretary-general of the Taipei-based Environmental Quality Protection Foundation, said the agriculture council should keep tabs on all GM papaya seedlings in labs to ensure that GM papayas would not reach consumers.

"The government should immediately launch a safety assessment regarding GM papayas," Liou said.

In Europe or North America, it takes at least 10 years to complete a GM food safety assessment to safeguard consumers' health, Liou said.

"If we don't know anything about GM papayas, the product should not be available on the market," Liou said.

Pointing to a strain of GM papayas in Hawaii as an example of how the problem should be handled, Liou said the product was strongly promoted when it went to market five years ago, but last year it was scientifically associated with an allergen.

Liou said papaya cultivation is one of Taiwan's most important agricultural industries.

He said that it was not right that Taiwanese papaya farmers should to be hurt by the government's carelessness in regulating food products.

According to the health department, only two imported GM products are available on the Taiwanese market -- soya beans and corn. Another 11 GM food products and materials are under evaluation.

Health officials said the compulsory labeling of GM crops and products processed from GM foodstuffs would be implemented next year.

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