A majority of the cottonseed meal that the nation imported was used as animal feed and growth substrate in mushroom cultivation bags, the Council of Agriculture (COA) said.
The council’s statement came amid public concern that imported cottonseed meal might have been added to food products, following a report by Taipei Municipal Wanfang Hospital psychiatrist Billy Pan (潘建志) that imports of cottonseed meal jumped to more than 5,500 tonnes last year from just more than 100kg in 2011.
The council released the initial results of an investigation into the issue late on Friday evening, saying that the increase in cottonseed meal purchases were attributable to three animal feed manufacturers and one fertilizer importer.
Imports surged last year because of the good harvest in Australia, which resulted in cheaper prices and encouraged animal feed manufacturers to replace soybean powder or other protein ingredients with cheaper cottonseed meal from Australia, the council said.
Only 150kg was imported from China by a technology company, at an average price of NT$26.7 per kilogram, for use as fermented culture medium in laboratory experiments in 2011, the council said.
Last year, 5,109 tonnes, 432 tonnes and 19 tonnes were imported from Australia, India and China respectively, at an average price of NT$9.6 per kilogram, it said.
As for this year, a total of 3,549 tonnes have been imported from Australia, India and Pakistan to date, at an average price of NT$11 per kilogram, it added.
Chu Ching-cheng (朱慶誠), deputy director of the council’s Animal Husbandry Department, said that cottonseed meal is a high-protein ingredient and using it as animal feed additive is legal in Taiwan.
As for concerns that the gossypol in cottonseed oil could affect human health by eating meat from animals that had consumed animal feeds containing cottonseed meal, he said animals can break down and metabolize gossypol in their body, so it would not cause a toxic reaction.
However, as gossypol can also reduce their protein digestion rate, its use is limited in animal feeds, Chu said.
The percentage of cottonseed meal added in ruminant animal feed is about 10 percent, and 2 to 3 percent for poultry feed, Chu said.
“Gossypol may have some negative effects on health, but the standard limit for gossypol residue in animal feeds is set at 0.04 percent,” he said.
However, when asked whether sampling inspection was conducted to test the amount of gossypol in cottonseed meal, he said the council did not do so.
The council said it would continue its investigation into whether cottonseed meal has been used for other purposes.