The Department of Health’s (DOH) recent approval of 11 kinds of pesticide — some of which are potentially cancer inducing — is threatening the public’s health and heavily damaging profits for Taiwanese farmers, academics said yesterday.
The academics’ criticism came in light of government approval of pesticides after the South Korean government complained that its apple exports to Taiwan fell 90 percent over the past three years due to its produce being blocked at customs due to high levels of pesticide residue and applied for the admission of 13 kinds of pesticides.
According to statistics from the Council of Agriculture, amount of imported apples last the year stood at roughly 136,000 tonnes, with the majority coming from the US and Chile.
The data showed that while South Korea only ranked fifth in apple imports, those exports went almost exclusively toward Taiwan.
In 2009, exports to Taiwan yielded US$17.8 million, accounting for 92.5 percent of South Korean total apple exports.
However, due to pesticide residue, the export yield for South Korean apples had only reached US$2 million, decreasing 88 percent over the last three years.
Chang Gung Medical Foundation toxicology department director Lin Chieh-liang (林杰樑) said he had been shocked when he saw the list of approved pesticides as many were the newest versions used in Taiwan.
“We don’t know how toxic these pesticides are, so the government should be more conservative,” Lin said, adding that Metconazole, one of the pesticides approved, was shown by the US Environmental Protection Agency to be harmful to the liver and kidneys under long-term exposure.
Further testing on animals showed that Metconazole could induce liver tumors, Lin said, adding that Spirodiclofen was also suspected to be a carcinogenic as it could cause tumor growth in male and female reproductive organs.
Consumers’ Foundation chairman Mark Chang (張智剛) said that if apples from other countries can meet the nation’s standards, then the DOH should ask the South Korean government to adhere to the rules instead of acceding to their demands.
Pointing out that domestic apple output totaled just 1,700 tonnes and apple farming only covers 170 hectares of land concentrated in central Taiwan, National Chung Hsing University professor, Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) said that loosening regulations for South Korean apples would impact on domestic fruit prices and affect farmers’ profits.
Chen said that every country had used pesticide residues or other methods as non-formal trade barriers due to WTO regulations, adding that as an example how Taiwan’s fruit exports to Japan had to comply with Japan’s heightened pesticide residue standards.
However, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration is doing the exact opposite and is not doing its duty to protect domestic farmers, Chen said.
In response, Food and Drug Agency director Tsai Shu-chen (蔡淑貞) said the allowance of the pesticides was not specifically targeting South Korean imports, but was also applicable to other countries, which had also applied to export to Taiwan.
The DOH would ask the council to make a general assessment on how toxic the pesticides were and make an announcement, after which it would become the standard for both domestic use and foreign import examinations, Tsai said.