Tue, Mar 26, 2019 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Agriculture and politics appear inseparable

By Lin Chia-nan  /  Staff reporter

Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Chi-chung, second left, talks with pomelo farmers in Madou Township, Tainan, on Friday.

Photo: Yang Chin-cheng, Taipei Times

Agricultural misinformation is being disseminated nationwide through newspaper and TV reports, as well as messaging apps, while efforts to clarify rumors might not reach even one-10th of its intended audience, Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) said, as the council steps up measures to combat rumors.

Misinformation in the agriculture sector has surged drastically, especially before elections, Chen said in a telephone interview with the Taipei Times on March 15, as he was traveling to southern Taiwan to meet with farmers.

In the week before the legislative by-elections on March 16, the council held news conferences or issued statements almost daily to deny false reports, he said.

At the time, Chinese-language media were focused on a CtiTV report on March 8 in which a farmer claimed that last year, he dumped almost 2 million tonnes of pomeloes into the Zengwen Reservoir (曾文水庫) as prices plunged.

The council said it would take legal action against the network if it did not correct its report within 20 days.

The farmer later said that he had exaggerated the volume of pomeloes that he had dumped.

In June last year, a photograph showing a truck dumping bananas by a roadside in Kaohsiung went viral as rumors swirled that prices had plummeted to NT$1 per kilogram.

The photograph was later found to have been taken by the Public Television Service in 2007.

These cases highlighted the problem of a recurring imbalance in fruit supply and demand, which has become a hotbed for rumors.

Some farmers did dump a certain amount of pomeloes last year, but not as much as 2 million tonnes or even jin (600g), said Lin Lai-fa (林來發), a fruit wholesaler based in New Taipei City’s Sanchong District (三重).

Banana prices rose as high as NT$100 (US$3.24) per kilogram after crops were damaged in a typhoon in 2016, which encouraged many farmers to grow the fruit and adversely affected prices in the following years, he said.

The council should improve its grasp on agricultural production nationwide and dissuade farmers from growing the same crop, when necessary, Lin said.

Lin said he supports government efforts to correct false information, but added that countermeasures should not be used to suppress political rivals.

Earlier this month, the council sued Yunlin-based farmer Lin Chia-hsin (林佳新) based on three articles of the Criminal Code, saying he had slandered the council and affected trade with his allegations that the council had sold rice in public stock to China at unreasonably low prices.

If convicted, the farmer could face a prison term of six months to three years or a fine of up to NT$300,000.

The council has proposed amendments to the Agricultural Products Market Transaction Act (農產品市場交易法) and the Food Administration Act (糧食管理法) that would impose a fine of between NT$60,000 and NT$300,000 for spreading rumors.

The proposals are one of the priority bills this legislative session.

Asked why the council has proposed the additional penalties, Chen said that there are different ways of spreading misinformation and not every offense falls under the purview of the Criminal Code.

Chen said that he visits farmers in different regions every week to ensure that they receive correct policy information and are able to voice their opinions directly.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Tseng Ming-chung (曾銘宗) earlier this month accused the council of raising a “cyberarmy” to attack dissidents after it called for bids for a NT$14.5 million project to recruit social media editors this year.

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