Gov’t makes U-turn on proposed lifting of fungicide ban

The China Post news staff

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Health authorities have put the brakes on lifting a ban on the use of fluopyram on tea plants, submitting to safety concerns from the public about the fungicide. The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) decided that, judging from the Taiwanese people’s dietary habits, the risks of using fluopyram on tea plants still needed to be evaluated, Agriculture Minister Lin Tsung-hsien (林聰賢) said on the sidelines of a public event. On Friday, the government still stressed that fluopyram was safe after calling an emergency meeting to consult the opinions of medical, agricultural and food experts.

But the MOHW’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Friday night that fluopyram will remain banned “because (the government) heeds public opinion and wants to step up communication (with the public)”on the matter. Some local media reports claimed that the policy reversal was probably a decision made directly by Premier Lin Chuan.

But MOHW Minister Chen Shih-chung was cited by some other local media as denying that the U-turn was the result of “pressure from the Cabinet.”

Chen said that there are three factors behind the sudden decision: public concern; impact on tea products’ domestic sales; and the lack of a pressing need to lift the ban.

Chen stressed that the original decision to lift the ban on fluopyram was supported by scientific evidence on the fungicide’s safety but a lack of communication with the general public had failed to convince people.

Lin said the Friday meeting was called in a bid to dispel public concerns, and that experts at the meeting confirmed that there were no procedural flaws in the making of the original decision.

Asked whether the original decision was made under pressure from Bayer, the producer of fluopyram, Lin said he was not aware of any pressure from the manufacturer. A toxicologist, Yang Chen-chang, described the Friday meeting — which he had also attended — as a “waste of time,” according to the Central News Agency.

He said the experts attending the meeting agreed that fluopyram did not carry a significant health risk, and some other countries already allow its use on vegetables. In Taiwan, fluopyram can be found in some legal pesticide products that are allowed to be used on lychee, longyan and some other fruits. But he pointed out that the FDA must explain to the public why some countries still ban the use of fluopyram on tea plants and why Taiwan has chosen to set the residue level for the fungicide at 6 parts per million.