May 26, 2004



Taiwanese Milk Firms Doubt Dioxin Report


Two major Taiwanese fresh milk suppliers yesterday rebutted the findings of a Department of Health survey which claimed their brands had exceeded dioxin levels considered safe by the EU.


Department officials came under the scrutiny of environmentalists and legislators on Monday over the department's initial reluctance to release information about dioxin levels. The report, which was eventually released on April 13, said that the dioxin levels of three brands of milk exceeded the EU limit of 2 picograms of the World Health Organization's toxicity equivalent per gram of fat (denoted as 2pg WHO-TEQ/g fat).


The department said that sampling of fresh milk over the last two years showed that products marketed by Uni-President and Tunghai Rangeland had exceeded the stated levels.


In May last year, the report said, dioxin levels for Uni-President and Tunghai Rangeland's milk was 3.28pg WHO-TEQ/g fat and 2.45pg WHO-TEQ/g fat respectively.


"Under pressure from not only environmental groups but also consumers, we decided to make the results of the survey available to the public. Consumers have the right to decide what they want to buy," said Chen Lu-hung, director-general of the department's Bureau of Food Sanitation.


Officials stressed that only 3 percent of dioxins in the average Taiwanese comes from fresh milk and that it was impossible to absorb threatening levels even if people drank 10 times the normal amount of fresh milk.


But yesterday's news resulted in a downturn in fresh milk sales.


Uni-President executive vice president Lo Chih-hsien said yesterday at a press conference that there was no need for customers to panic.


"According to the report, the dioxin level of our products dropped down to 1.88pg WHO-TEQ/g fat. We need to find out why the results varied so dramatically within an interval of only three months," Lo said.


Lo added that dioxin residue can be found in many kinds of food, including seafood and meat.


Tunghai Rangeland is the only university-run milk production firm in the country. Yang Shyi-kuen, an animal science professor at Tunghai University, said yesterday that the report's findings deserved to be questioned because they had a margin of error of 33 percent.


"Under these circumstances, we don't see strong scientific evidence supporting any differences between the brands that were sampled," Yang said.


The university yesterday urged the department to conduct more comprehensive surveys.


The university added it was considering filing for compensation if its reputation was found to have been damaged by the report's findings.

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