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Cablegate: Food Supply in Southern Taiwan Faces Scrutiny

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.







E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Food Supply in Southern Taiwan Faces Scrutiny

REF: A)Taipei 2997 B) Taipei 3566

1. The food supply in Taiwan has come under increasing
scrutiny following reports of more dioxin-contaminated duck
and fish products (reftel A), commercially raised fish
contaminated with the carcinogen, malachite green, and large
additional amounts of diseased pork (reftel B). Moreover,
most of the disposable chopsticks used in the marketplace
have been found to be contaminated with bleaching agents.
The Taiwan Consumer Foundation has called on the government
to implement stricter controls, after previous measures
failed to keep dioxin and malachite green contaminated
foodstuffs out of the market.

Contaminated Fish
2. According to Shih Shen-lung, Division Chief of the
Taiwan Council of Agriculture (COA) Fishery Agency, tests on
commercially raised grouper from 14 fish farms in Pingtung,
Kaohsiung and Tainan Counties revealed that the fish raised
in Pingtung and Tainan was contaminated with malachite
green, a known carcinogen. The substance is used to prevent
infections in the fish. After further tests revealed that
sixty percent of the grouper in the Taipei market was
contaminated with malachite green, the COA ordered all
grouper removed from the markets and placed a one-week
moratorium on sales. During the intervening week, the COA
implemented an inspection system, with the fish that passed
the inspection being certified as free from contamination so
that the fish could reenter the market.
3. After a week, grouper returned to the market, but
skeptical consumers caused sales to drop by eighty percent.
Their fears turned out to be well founded when, less than
one week after the grouper returned to the market,
Carrefour, the island's largest retailer, determined that
grouper it had purchased was contaminated with malachite
green. An investigation revealed that fish farmers had
transferred certification tags from inspected fish to fish
that had not been checked.
4. Shih insisted that the existing inspection systems for
grouper destined for export ensured that the exported fish
were safe for consumption. However, Hong Kong officials
recently detected malachite green in Taiwan-produced fish
and halted their importation and sale. The combined loss of
domestic and overseas sales has had a major impact on the
USD 85 million per year commercial grouper industry.
Contaminated Pork
5. On 14 September 2005, police seized over 2,000 kg of
diseased pork products at an illegal abattoir in Tainan
County. Police arrested eight suspects who admitted to
purchasing the facility, which had previously been used to
dispose of hogs with foot and mouth disease. They purchased
dead and diseased pigs from local farmers and processed the
animals into sausage for sale in the local market. Based on
information provided by the suspects, police subsequently
raided another facility in Tainan County, seizing 120
diseased pigs, over 1000 kg of sausage, and several thousand
kg of diseased meat which was awaiting further processing.
The group estimated that they had processed and sold 120,000
kg of diseased pork in the period from purchasing the
facility in February 2005 to the time of the raid.
6. Taiwan's EPA has recently adopted a recycling program in
which table waste from local households is collected and
processed for hog feed. This mandatory program has been in
effect since June of this year. The EPA states that the
waste is heated to high temperatures to kill germs and is
safe for use. The COA, however, suspects the waste is
causing an increase in hog morbidity and has asked for its
termination. The Taiwan EPA recently agreed to end the
program in January of 2006.
Contaminated Ducks
7. Dioxin also continues to plague Taiwan's food supply.
For the second time in three months, the COA has detected
dioxin-contaminated duck products in Changhua County. The
tested samples of both duck meat and duck eggs had dioxin at
levels of more than 7pg/g, more than double the safe level
set by the European Union. As previously reported (reftel
A), Taiwan has yet to establish clear standards. In the
present case, COA officials culled more than 3,000 ducks and
150,000 duck eggs. COA officials said that they suspect
contaminated feed and are investigating. However, previous
investigations point to emissions from a local steel ash
recycling plant. Despite claiming that airborne pollutants
did not contribute to the incident, COA has begun testing
rice, fruits, vegetables and seafood from farms in the area
to determine if they are polluted.
8. In further reports from Changhua, Taiwan health
officials have begun testing farmers in the area for dioxin
levels. Initial results indicate that most farmers in the
area have high dioxin levels. The dioxin is believed to be
due to their consumption of contaminated agricultural
products. This is particularly worrisome, since Changhua
County is the largest supplier of agricultural products to
the Taipei market.
9. As previously reported, the COA has banned fishing and
fish farming in the dioxin-polluted areas of Tainan. This
has prompted former residents of the area to return to the
area in an attempt to claim compensation. Media footage
and interviews indicate that many of these people, finding
the compensation insufficient to make a living, have
resorted to fishing in the polluted areas to supplement the
compensation. Taiwan's Consumer Foundation has criticized
the government for failing to make any effort to enforce the
fishing ban.

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10. Finally, the government has begun to inspect supplies
of disposable chopsticks used in the restaurants of Taiwan.
Most of the chopsticks have been found to be contaminated
with bleaching agents. Officials are investigating to
determine if the contamination is taking place in the
manufacturing process, or if local vendors are bleaching and
recycling used chopsticks.
11. Comment. The continued revelations of contamination in
foodstuffs produced for both the domestic and export markets
are not only a threat to agri-business interests in Taiwan,
but also a source of concern for AIT staff who purchase food
in the local marketplace. Government enforcement efforts
and reassurances are of little comfort. Despite inspection
systems, both domestic and export grouper are still
contaminated and, despite major seizures, a huge amount of
diseased pork continues to find its way into the food
supply. Police estimate that they are finding less than
half of the contaminated pork being processed. End Comment.



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