Consumers’ group, farmer urge traceability system


Source: Taipei Times


By Chen Wei-han  /  Staff reporter

Tue, Mar 22, 2016 

A consumer rights organization and a tea farmer yesterday urged the establishment of a traceability system using isotope analysis to authenticate the origin of agricultural products to prevent false labeling or adulterated products and protect the nation’s agriculture.

At a news conference at the Legislative Yuan yesterday, Green Consumers’ Foundation chairman Jay Fang (方儉) said that mislabeling and adulteration have damaged the reputation of Taiwan’s agriculture and compromised food safety, and that an advanced traceability system is necessary to protect Taiwanese products.

The foundation launched a one-year program with a tea farm in Hsinchu County’s Beipu Township (北埔), which is known as the home of oriental beauty tea, to collect the farm’s unique “fingerprints,” or isotope signatures — isotope ratios that are unique to a particular area, Fang said.

Isotope fingerprints can be used to determine whether a batch of tea is from a specific region or even a specific farm, but the fingerprinting method has never been attempted before in Taiwan’s or China’s tea industries, he said.

Farm owner and Beipu Culture Workshop director Ku Wu-nan (古武南), whose family has produced oriental beauty tea for generations, described himself as a “victim of adulteration of tea,” a rampant practice in the tea industry that cannot be easily corrected.

“The township produces only about 500 jin [300kg] of oriental beauty tea every year, but more than 10,000 jin of oriental beauty tea enters the county’s oriental beauty tea competition every year. It is very likely that competition teas are not grown in the county, but adulterated with products from other places, even Vietnam,” Ku said, adding that his tea farm, about 1.45 hectares, produces just 15 jin of oriental beauty tea a year.

“Prize-winning teas can be sold for tens of thousands of New Taiwan dollars per jin, but consumers might spend that money on adulterated teas,” he said.

To preserve local culture and the tea industry, it is imperative to have the means to verify the origin of teas, which cannot be achieved with regular testing methods, he said.

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Karen Yu (余宛如) said that developing origin verification systems is a global trend, especially for high-value agriculture products, such as coffee, cheese and wines, but Taiwan has allowed the value of local produce to fall because adulterated products are widely circulated and damage Taiwan’s reputation.

The agricultural industry is in desperate need of an origin verification system to distinguish locally produced products from others to maintain competitiveness and ensure food safety, Yu said.