CF warns on oysters copper levels

The China Post staff

The Consumers’ Foundation (CF) and the Department of Health (DOH) yesterday called for a consumer alert on oysters that may contain high levels of copper, but health officials said they have no plan to set a minimum standard for copper levels in the seafood. The foundation recently inspected 20 samples of oysters purchased around Taiwan and found three samples contained copper levels in excess of 200 ppm (parts per million).

Two samples had copper levels between 100 and 200 ppm, while four others contained between 50 and 100 ppm of copper.

Foundation officials urged the government to regulate copper levels in oysters and said consumers should be on guard when buying the seafood. They also called for inspection of places where the affected oysters originated to determine if there was industrial contamination.

But in view of the fact that most other countries have not imposed similar limits, the Cabinet-level health department said it will not consider regulating copper levels. Cheng Hui-wen, director general of the department’s Bureau of Food Safety, said the bureau will not contemplate setting up a maximum level for copper in oysters for the time being.

Cheng said that copper is one of the metal elements of which all animals require trace amounts. In addition, copper can easily pass through the body and is generally not considered a health hazard.

He said Taiwan, like most other countries, does not regulate every kind of heavy metal in food products and has only set maximum limits on highly toxic metals like mercury and lead.

Lin Chieh-liang, director of Clinical Toxic Department at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital of the Formosa Plastics Group, also said that oysters tend to accumulate heavy metals easily, but it is easy for the human body to discharge copper.

Unless one eats as much as several kilograms of oysters on a single day, these levels of copper will not affect one’s organs, including the liver where many toxins accumulate, Lin added.

However, health department officials reminded consumers to be careful and advised them to choose smaller and fuller oysters but shun those whose color is greener, as this indicates high levels of copper. Oysters are a popular seafood for people in Taiwan and oyster omelets are always among the hot-selling items at snack stands. Following reports of high copper levels in the past, consumers stayed away from oysters and sent the prices into a tailspin.