Sat, May 03, 2008 - Page 4 News List

Groups say shark fins likely toxic

MERCURY LEVELS Tests conducted by Hong Kong’s ALS showed levels that are more than 100 times higher than in tests by local health authorities

STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA

Democratic Progressive Party Taipei City Councilor Wu Su-yao and WildAid chairman Peter Knights announce that the mercury present in shark fins from the same shipment can vary by a factor of 100.

PHOTO: LIU JUNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei City Councilor Wu Su-yao (吳思瑤), chairman of international conservation group WildAid Peter Knights and Green Consumers’ Foundation chairman Jay Fang (方儉) warned of mercury in shark fins during a press conference at the Taipei City Council yesterday.

They said that 10 shark fins purchased from Dihua Street (迪化街) at the beginning of the year were tested by Taipei City’s Department of Health and ALS laboratories in Hong Kong for mercury levels, with the results from ALS showing levels more than 100 times higher than the city’s tests.

The Department of Health tests showed that the highest concentration of mercury in the shark fins was 0.03 parts per million (ppm), and the lowest contained none. The 10 shark fins were deemed to be within Taiwan’s safety limit of 2ppm.

However, based on ALS’ results, the highest concentration was 11.87ppm — 132 times higher than the 0.09ppm obtained by the Taipei City tests and far above the safety levels set by Japan, the US, the EU and the WHO.

Knights said that mercury concentrations are higher at the base than at the tip of the fin, and the levels are also affected by the age of the shark.

He said he also found during visits to Taiwanese toxicology experts that the mercury-testing equipment they used was not accurate enough, which poses a significant threat to consumers of shark fin in Taiwan.

Wu said she believed that the Department of Health should upgrade its equipment and techniques and perform random inspections of mercury concentrations in shark fins, tuna and other large fish.

Shark fin products should also feature warnings about high mercury levels, and public awareness programs should be devised to dissuade people from eating shark fin, they said.

Chiu Chih-sheng (邱志昇), director of laboratories at the city’s Department of Health, admitted that the department’s equipment was old, but added that the city last year approved a budget to replace the equipment.

Asked why the test results differed, Chiu said he believed that the divergence was caused by samples being taken from different parts of the fins and the fact that the samples were not of a uniform quality.

As the department took samples from different sections of the fins, whereas ALS tested the tip and the base of the fins three times each, the results were different, he said.

Chiang Yu-mieh (姜郁美), head of the department’s Food and Drugs Division, warned that mercury concentrations in the body affects the nervous system and can cause blurred eyesight, anxiety and other symptoms.

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