Farmers demand block on Vietnam tea

STORM IN A TEACUP? :following the discovery of a banned pesticide in a shipment of Vietnamese tea, lawmakers, farmers and other activists demanded action

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sat, Jul 28, 2007 - Page 2

Lawmakers, tea farmers and activists called for a suspension of tea imports from Vietnam, after the Department of Health discovered residue of a banned pesticide in Vietnamese leaf tea imports earlier this month.

The department found more than 0.09ppm of dicofol, a pesticide prohibited from use on tea plants, in 21,000kg of tea leaves imported from Vietnam, Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) told a press conference at the legislature yesterday.

"It's shocking that so many tea leaves were found with a banned pesticide in such a short time," Lai said.

Tea imported from Vietnam is often sold as Taiwanese tea or made into tea-based drinks, she said.

"Imports of Vietnamese tea should be suspended and we should demand action from the Vietnamese government to solve the problem," said Su Wei-shuo (蘇偉碩), chairman of the Taiwan Farmers' Alliance.

Two tea farmers from Nantou County supported Su's suggested measures.

"That's what foreign countries like Japan did when they found problems with our produce," Chen Chi-cheng (陳吉成) said. "[The government] should take these measures to protect consumers, if not to protect tea farmers."

Tea farmers in Taiwan have suffered great losses in the face of competition from lower-priced Vietnamese tea.

"I've only made about 50 percent of the cost from sales of spring harvest tea leaves," Chen said.

Wu Cheng-hsue (吳政學), a senior consumer ombudsman from the Consumer Protection Commission, vowed to make inspections of imported tea leaves stricter, especially regarding illegal pesticide residues and false labeling.

"We're strictly enforcing import inspections; we'll also conduct more inspections in the marketplace to identify and withdraw imported tea sold as Taiwanese tea," Wu said.

Wu said he could not promise to enforce a suspension on imports of Vietnamese tea.

"We'll have to call a meeting with customs officials, agricultural authorities and health authorities next week to decide what to do," Wu said.

Food Safety Bureau Deputy Director Hsieh Ting-hung (謝定宏) confirmed yesterday the discovery of the contaminated shipment.

"The shipment will be turned away at the port and it would be up to the owners whether or not to take it back or to destroy it," Hsieh said. "None of the tainted shipment has reached the market."

Dicofol is an insecticide approved for used on legumes and vegetables, but not on teas, he said.

Additional reporting by Angelica Oung