Tue, Nov 02, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Center geared tp stamp out red fire ants in three years

PESTAgriculture Minister Lee Ching-lung said the center, which integrates the nation's epidemic control units, will adopt methods that have helped both the US and Australia

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The National Red Fire Ant Control Center officially started operations yesterday. Agriculture Minister Lee Ching-lung (李金龍) said that the situation has been brought under control and that the ants would be eradicated within three years.

At the center's opening ceremony in Taipei yesterday, Lee said that 21 townships and 49 schools have been affected by the invasion of South American red fire ants, which have appeared in both agricultural and urban areas.

"The government is ready to distribute 20,000kg of chemicals to fight the red fire ants. People should be smart enough not to turn over the soil in affected agricultural areas, because it might worsen the invasion," Lee said.

The center integrated epidemic control units at all levels to effectively handle the problem, and the Council of Agriculture will provide the center with resources to eradicate the species in Taiwan within three years, Lee said.

Taiwan is the fourth country to be invaded by the aggressive ant species. The fire ant is a serious pest which has invaded the US, New Zealand and Australia.

Lee said yesterday that he appreciated the idea of freezing the ants in liquid nitrogen, which was recently proposed by scientists at the Academia Sinica.

The center, headed by Yang Ping-shih (楊平世), a professor of entomology at National Taiwan University, will first adopt methods that have been used in the US and Australia. According to Yang, the species has troubled the US for more than seven decades, and Australia for three years.

Taoyuan, Taipei and Chiayi counties have been worst hit. Officials said yesterday that techniques to stamp out the ants will be demonstrated soon on the campus of National Taipei University in Sansia, Taipei County, to train more workers. Similar workshops have already been held in two seriously affected townships in Chiayi County.

Council of Agriculture officials said color codes will be established to classify the seriousness of the ant problem across the nation, with red indicating the ants have been discovered but no action has been taken; yellow indicating that ants are currently being exterminated; and green indicating that the ants have been eliminated.

Officials stressed yesterday that the seriousness of the ant invasion should not be ignored. The ants last month devastated electric cables supplying the reservoir at Shihmen Dam in Taoyuan County.

At the opening ceremony, Ketagalan Academy president Lee Hung-hsi (李鴻禧) said that he was confident in Taiwanese scientists' ability to deal with the problem.

"We've successfully halted the spread of SARS. Now it's just another chance for Taiwan to demonstrate its achievement of biological control," Lee Hung-hsi said.

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