Eel exports to Japan suspended

TEMPORARY MEASURE: The action comes after Japanese customs discovered unusual levels of antibiotics in a recent batch of eels from Taiwan


Thu, Nov 13, 2003 - Page 2

A recent antibiotic contamination of Taiwanese eels exported to Japan prompted the Council of Agriculture yesterday to suspend eel exports for at least three weeks.

Last Friday, Japanese inspectors in Okinawa found excessive levels of sulfanilamide in a 600kg live batch of eels that had arrived from Taiwan. On Tuesday, Japan launched a full examination of all eels, alive and processed, from Taiwan. Normally, Japanese customs only check 5 percent of Taiwanese eels.

In the 1970s, Japan imported US$200 million worth of eels, accounting for more than 2 percent of all trade between the two nations. Currently, Japan consumes 30,000 tonnes of eels a year worth NT$6.8 billion.

In response to Japanese fears, the council's Fisheries Agency yesterday asked eel suppliers to suspend exports for at least three weeks. The agency also ordered eel merchants to inspect goods for contamination

The agency's deputy chief, Hsieh Da-wen (謝大文), said the agency would fund eel checks to ensure quality.

"We will soon come up with a mechanism in order to further ensure the quality of eels," Hsieh said.

Officials said that a minority of processors had smuggled eels from China and exported them to Japan under the name of Taiwan.

According to Shih Sheng-lung (石聖龍), deputy director of the agency's department of aquaculture and coastal fisheries, China began exporting low-priced processed eels to Japan a decade ago.

Japan in recent years began carrying out stricter examinations of Chinese eels, shrinking the Chinese market share.

Meanwhile, officials said that in the era of globalization, producers, merchants and exporters in the seafood industry should work together to ensure the quality of products and make the industry sustainable.

Local prices of fish and shrimp have fallen sharply in the past month after the EU rejected 30 tonnes of seafood exported from Taiwan because of excessive levels of antibiotics.

The Department of Health yesterday called on the public not to panic.

"Consumption of an excessive amount of sulfur drugs will harm the thyroid gland and the kidneys," said Yu Wan-neng (余萬能), deputy director general of the Bureau of Pharmaceutical Affairs.

However, Yu stressed that according to the standards set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, an international health standards organization, 0.05 parts per million of sulfur drugs is within the parameters of safe usage.

"In other words, assuming each eel contains 0.1ppm of sulfur drugs, then a person weighing 60kg would have to consume around 30kg of eel for the amount of sulfur to be dangerous to one's health. This is an administrative problem, not a health hazard," Yu said.

additional reporting by Joy Su