Taiwan probes China claims of groupers containing illegal drug residue
Update: No illegal drug residue found in Taiwan fish farm probe (Jan. 12)
Taipei, Jan. 7 (CNA) Officials from the Council of Agriculture (COA) said Thursday they were looking into two fish farms in Pingtung County after Chinese authorities announced they had found residue of illegal veterinary drugs in imported Taiwanese live groupers.
China's General Administration of Customs issued a notice on Dec. 30, 2021, saying it had found malachite green and crystal violet, both of which are banned for use in aquaculture in China, in live groupers imported from two fish farms owned by Taiwanese farmers Wang Chih-yi (王志義) and Tai Chao-chung (戴兆鐘).
The Chinese authorities said they had suspended fish imports from the two farms until further notice and would step up inspections of other Taiwanese fish at the border.
The suspension was confirmed by COA Deputy Minister Huang Chin-cheng (黃金城), who told CNA on Thursday that the ministry had also temporarily suspended permits allowing the two farms to export live groupers to China as the Taiwanese authorities look into the matter.
According to the Mainland Affairs Council, the top government agency handling cross-strait affairs, Chinese customs notified Taiwan's animal quarantine authorities of the issue on Dec. 27 and asked them to stop allowing fish products from the two farms to be exported to China before an investigation is conducted.
Meanwhile, trade in live groupers supplied by other Taiwanese farmers with China remains normal, Huang said.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan used to export approximately 12,000 metric tons of live groupers to China annually, according to the Fisheries Agency (FA). However, due to logistic disruptions caused by the pandemic, only 6,021 metric tons were exported to China from January to November 2021, FA data showed.
Following the notification from the Chinese customs, officials from Pingtung County government on Thursday took samples from the two fish farms for further examination, said Hsu Jung-ping (徐榮彬), deputy director-general of the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (BAPHIQ), which falls under the COA.
Hsu added the bureau would consider further action after the test results come back.
According to Hsu, malachite green is a synthetic dye that used to be widely used in the aquaculture as an anti-fungal agent. It was later banned in Taiwan after studies indicated that residue of the drug in the human body can cause cancer.
On the other hand, the Taiwanese authorities do not regulate the use of crystal violet because it is not commonly used in the fish farming industry, Hsu added.
At the same time, FA Deputy Director-General Lin Kuo-ping (林國平) said the agency conducts sampling inspections on fish products before they are loaded on transport vessels for export.
Currently, there are six licensed vessels in Taiwan that carry Taiwanese live fish to China, Lin noted.
Speaking to CNA Thursday, Wang Chung-yi, one of the farmers named by the Chinese authorities, said he did not know how his fish could have been contaminated with the residue as he took samples for examination before shipping them to China in early November.
Wang, whose family has worked in the industry for over six decades, said he hopes a third-party inspector re-examines the fish.
The other fish farmer, Tai Chao-chung, said he was told that a shipment of fish belonging to him was stopped at the Chinese border in October, but he had not shipped any groupers at that time.
Tai said he suspected someone might have exported the problematic products using his name, adding that he had reported the matter to the local authorities and did not rule out the possibility of legal action.
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