Wed, Sep 19, 2012 - Page 4 News List

Nitrate poisoning case prompts calls for new test

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

Retired horticulture professor Cheng Cheng-yung displays a test card showing the nitrate content of tested vegetables during a press conference in Taipei yesterday.

Photo: CNA

The Homemakers United Foundation and the Consumers’ Foundation yesterday urged safety standards to measure levels of nitrates in vegetables and to have the checks listed as a regular item of inspection.

A few months ago, a 42-year-old woman who was a long-term vegetarian was diagnosed as suffering from acute methemoglobinemia, a form of poisoning, with medics saying she was eating vegetables that contained high levels of nitrate, the Consumers Foundation said.

Some farmers apply nitrogen fertilizer to grow vegetables faster, but when the fertilizers used are exposed to insufficient levels of sunlight, crops have difficulty performing photosynthesis and excessive levels of nitrate can accumulate in the plants, the foundation said, adding that the intake of high levels of nitrate can lead to poisoning.

Homemakers United Foundation president Chen Man-li (陳曼麗) said the EU has established safety standard levels of nitrate in spinach and lettuce, according to the difference in daylight hours during winter and summer, and so the Council of Agriculture in Taiwan should follow the example and set safety levels to protect consumers.

Consumers’ Foundation committee member and retired professor at the National Taiwan University’s Horticulture Department Cheng Cheng-yung (鄭正勇) said nitrogenous fertilizers — whether artificial or organic — can add excessive amounts of nitrate to vegetables due to insufficient light.

Long-term intake of excessive nitrates can cause negative health effects, Cheng said, adding that cooking vegetables in boiled water for two minutes can lower nitrate levels by between 20 percent to 50 percent.

Although several countries — including the US, Japan, Canada and Australia — have not set safety levels for nitrates in vegetables, the foundation urged the government to list nitrate testing as a regular item for inspection.

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