Food watchdogs and a lawmaker yesterday accused the government of failing to test the residue level of glyphosate in soybeans, despite the nation having the strictest maximum residue limits for glyphosate.
Glyphosate, an herbicide developed by leading genetically modified seed producer Monsanto, is widely used in the US and South America, where soybeans that have been genetically modified to tolerate the glyphosate herbicide are grown.
Taiwan imports about 2.4 million tonnes of soybeans annually, or about 99.95 percent of the soybeans used in the country, with 55 percent of the annual import coming from the US and the rest from South America, said Warren Kuo (郭華仁), a professor of agronomy at National Taiwan University.
According to a press statement released by the Council of Agriculture earlier this year, 28,000 tonnes, or 12 percent of the total imported soybeans, are used directly in food products such as tofu or soy milk, and 75 percent, or 1.8 million tonnes, are used to make cooking oil.
About 90 percent of imported soybeans are genetically modified (GM), and four of the 12 GM soybean strains that Taiwan has approved for import are glyphosate-resistant.
“Taiwan has a maximum residue limit [MRL] for glyphosate of 10 parts per million [ppm], which is lower than that of the US, Japan and the Codex Alimentarius at 20ppm,” Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) told a press conference held with the Homemakers United Foundation and the Green Formosa Front.
“However, the problem is that what we have been using for testing is the ‘multi-residue analysis,’ which analyzes the residue levels of 251 pesticides at one time, and glyphosate is not one of them,” Lin said.
When Lin asked the authorities and labs whether it is possible to test residue level for glyphosate alone, she said the answer she got was that “the method is still under development.”
Kuo added that a research study published in Germany last week found surprisingly high residue levels of glyphosate in soybean crops, some with levels as high as 90ppm, grown in Argentina, from where Taiwan has been importing soybeans for years.
Glyphosate has been said to “incur no immediate health risk,” but studies have found that the chemical affects healthy gut bacteria and deactivates the liver enzymes, Kuo said.
As Taiwanese consume a large amount of soybeans and soybean-based products, the group said the government should aim for a higher soybean self-sufficiency rate in Taiwan, more effective custom checks on herbicide residues and clear labels separating non-GM, food-grade soybeans from those that are not.