Sun, Jul 15, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Customs turns back US wheat

STANDARDS Amid worries that the nation could soon face a shortage of flour as early as next month, authorities maintained their zero tolerance on the presence of chemicals

By Yang Ya-min and Wang Yi-se  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Almost 10 thousand tonnes of US wheat was turned back at customs after tests revealed the presence of the agrochemical malathion.

The rejected wheat was part of a 40 thousand tonne-plus shipment imported by 25 flour mills ten days ago.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs' Bureau of Standards, Metrology and Inspection, acting on behalf of the Department of Health's Bureau of Food Safety (BFS), detected concentrations of malathion of 0.3 parts per million (ppm) in samples from the shipment.

Although the concentration was well below the WHO recommended maximum residue limit of 5 ppm and the US' residue limit of 8 ppm, Taiwan does not allow any detectable trace of malathion to be present in wheat, BFS deputy head Hsieh Ting-hung (謝定宏) said.

"It is perfectly normal for different countries to set their own guidelines for food safety," Hsieh said yesterday. "For instance, when Taiwanese mangoes and aquaculture exports do not meet agrochemical residue standards in other countries, it does not matter if they meet ours [and] they are sent back."

Chief operating officer of the Taiwan Flour Mills Association Huang Ching-ru (黃錦如) said that Taiwan could face a flour shortage crisis if the rules are not swiftly relaxed to allow a small amount of malathion residue.

By the time the news of the rejected shipment had made its way back to the US, further attempts by the association to purchase US wheat found no takers as the risk of a rejected shipment was too great, Huang said.

"As early as the end of August, Taiwan could be running short on flour, affecting the supply of bread, noodles, instant ramen, steam buns and dumplings," she said.

Hsieh, however, said that the prospect of a wheat shortage was "overblown."

"The European Union also has a zero-limit policy on malathion in wheat," Hsieh said. "It is therefore up to the manufacturers to find supplies that conform to our food safety standards."

Huang said that recent upgrades in equipment have made previously undetectable levels of malathion detectable, causing shipments that would have been considered acceptable previously to be rejected.

Additional reporting by Angelica Oung

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