Tue, Sep 20, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Crab inspection policy slammed

INSUFFICIENTTwo pan-green legislators said the government was rolling the dice with public health by discontinuing cholera virus inspections on Chinese crab imports

STAFF WRITER

Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Lai Shin-yuan holds up a hairy crab imported from China. Lai said that the lack of hygiene inspection for Chinese seafood entering the country is endangering the public's health.

PHOTO: CHEN CHIEH-MING, TAIPEI TIMES

Two pan-green camp legislators yesterday criticized the government's current inspection procedures for hairy crab imports, claiming they do not adequately protect public health.

Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) Legislator Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) made the claim at a joint press conference with Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Huang Wei-cher (黃偉哲).

Huang and Lai said that 116 cases of the cholera vibrio virus were reported in China last month, but that inspections for the highly sought-after hairy crab (大閘蟹), also called Shanghai crab, have not been initiated this year.

Taiwan has been importing crabs from China in increasing numbers, and the huge trade has given rise to concerns that the cholera virus might enter Taiwan.

Worries are especially high now, since crabs are regarded as being at their tastiest in the fall.

In response to those concerns, the Department of Health (DOH) said that if the level of infection in China rose, they would implement checks for cholera on imported crabs.

According to Lai, crab imports from China reached 800,000kg last year, accounting for 52 percent of all crab imported into the nation.

Of these only 15 batches, or 13.6 percent, were tested for cholera, despite the fact that China is classified as a cholera-affected area.

Lai added that the nation's production of red crab, another high-end seafood, fell from 2.86 million kilograms in 1996 to just 248,000kg last year, even as imports of crabs from China increased fourfold over the same period. She said it was imperative that Taiwan protect its own fisheries in the face of this threat.

According to Lin Wen-fei (林文斐) the head of the inspections office of the Bureau of Disease Control of the DOH, Taiwan maintained some of the strictest testing for cholera from 1997 to last year, but only a single case tested positive for the virus in that time period. Given that low number, the greater danger of infection from a number of new diseases and the corresponding need for more complex testing, inspection for cholera was dropped this year.

Hsieh Ting-hung (謝定宏), a specialist with the DOH's Bureau of Food Safety, added that the department's emphasis was currently on detecting residue from veterinary drugs in imported animals. He added that given public concern, moves would be made to reintroduce cholera inspection for imported seafood from China.

Meanwhile, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said yesterday that a comprehensive investigation on the discovery of contaminated grouper exported to Hong Kong must be carried out as soon as possible.

Earlier this month, Hong Kong's survey of fish products found traces of the toxic chemical malachite green -- which can cause mutations and cancer -- in Taiwanese farmed salmon.

"The situation is critical," Chen said. "Taiwan produces annually 13,000 tonnes of grouper costing NT$2.75 billion [US$83.5 million]. We can't afford any loss caused by some dishonest merchants' illegal activities."

Chen demanded that the Council of Agriculture launch a comprehensive investigation at once.

Additional reporting by Chiu Yu-tzu

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