Thursday, 27 October 2011

News Brief: China exports toxic chrysanthemum flowers to Taiwan (and Australians send tainted beef)

Tests on imported flowers used to flavour teas showed 15 kinds of agrichemicals, the Liberty Times reported today (full Chinese-language article here)

The Department of Health (衛生署) yesterday published information about a variety of food products failing to meet Taiwan’s standards. 

A 160kg consignment of chrysanthemum flowers imported from China was destroyed after testing positive for 15 kinds of substandard agrichemicals. Among these, levels for the cancer-causing organic chlorine-containing endosulfan (安殺番) exceeded allowed limits by 5200 percent. Doctors reminded the public that before preparing chrysanthemum tea (菊花茶) should firstly use hot water to wash them several times.

A 24,000kg shipment of frozen beef products from Australia was also blocked after tests showed trace levels of salbutamol (沙丁胺醇), a chemical used to make meat leaner, the first time it has been found in meat products imported into Taiwan. Wu Tsung-hsi (吳宗熹), section chief at the DOH Bureau Of Food And Drug Analysis Department (食品藥物管理局) said that salbutamol was prohibited in the US, Canada and Australia. Although in North America the use of the less toxic ractopamine (萊克多巴胺) is permitted, even that is not allowed to show up in Australian tests, Wu said. The Australian representative in Taiwan had been informed, and tests on future imports of Australian beef products would be raised from 5 percent to 20 percent.

Taiwan only produces a small fraction of the chrysanthemum flowers popular with tea and herbal infusion drinkers. Around 30 tons of Hangzhou chrystanthemums (杭菊) are grown on 42 hectares in Miaoli and Taitung counties. According to the Council of Agriculture (農委會), all imported dried chrysanthemums come from PRC, last year was around 157 tons of dried chrysanthemums were imported last year, all from the PRC. So far in the first 9 months of this year, the figure is around 80 tons. Most are sold to Chinese pharmacies, dried good stores and tea houses, primarily for use in teas and herbal drinks. Since five or six flowers (less than 10g) are used to make a 300cc drink, the council estimates that to drink all 80 tons would indicate more than 8 million cups of chrysanthemum tea have been brewed this year.

The COA also explained that since chrysanthemum flowers are particularly prone to pests, it is customary to spray them with pesticides. It further claimed that not only are China’s regulations about pesticide use not as stringent as Taiwan’s, but also China’s farmers are less observant of rules that do exist. 

Wu said this was the second such incident involving PRC chrysanthemum flowers this year. The last, in May, was due to bleaching agents (漂白劑). It was the third incident of substandard foods from China this month, he said; the other two concerned kiwi fruit (奇異果) and frozen mandarin fish (桂花魚; aka Chinese perch).

                                                                  Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

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