Consumers of selected Taiwanese teas will now be able to trace the path their tea took from the farm to their cup through the Taiwan Agriculture and Food Traceability System (TAFT).
"By typing the identifying barcode into the TAFT Web site, consumers will be able to access information such as where their tea was grown, when it was harvested and what pesticides and herbicides, if any, were used to produce it," said Kuo Chung-chin (郭聰欽), the executive officer of the Integrated Agricultural Development Foundation. "We are going to address consumer concerns by making production processes completely transparent."
In addition to the production information, consumers will also be able to see pictures of the farms where the tea was grown and the farmers who grew it. Other products already on the market under the TAFT system include Taiwanese fruits and rice. All products in the scheme are identified by a distinctive scannable sticker.
According to Kuo, Taiwanese agricultural produce has been plagued by pesticide and herbicide residue issues both at home and abroad.
"Consumer confidence can be shattered by just a few reports of possibly harmful produce," Kuo said. "By doing a better job of documenting our agricultural practices, we will be able to isolate the source of tainted produce and protect the producers who are playing by the rules."
Production records are also important when it comes to exporting Taiwanese produce abroad.
"The already-strict standards for agricultural imports in Japan are set to be raised even higher in 2008. A good `production resume' will become necessary to export there," said Chen Hsuan (
According to Chen, Taiwan exports around 4,000 tonnes of tea from a total production of 20,000 tonnes annually. Taiwan mostly exports high-quality Oolong teas to Japan, with niche markets in Europe and the US. However, the Taiwanese are such voracious tea drinkers that Taiwan is almost a net importer of tea.
"We import a little less than 20,000 tonnes of lower-quality tea from countries such as Vietnam," Chen said. "Those cheaper leaves are used in bottled teas, flavored teas and other low-end applications."
There were widespread fears that cheap teas from China would threatened Taiwanese producers, Chen said, but a burgeoning Chinese domestic market fueled by the rapidly expanding economy there has absorbed almost all the supply.
"We export teas to China," said Chen, adding that good quality Taiwanese Ti Kuan Yin tea can fetch 1,000 yuan (US$127) for 500g.
"If you divide the quantity of tea leaves grown for the domestic market and imported by the population, the average Taiwanese consumes 1.6kg of tea annually," Chen said.