Black sesame seeds from Malaysia seized at Taiwan’s border

TAIPEI, Jan 16: A shipment of dried black sesame seeds from Malaysia was recently seized at Taiwan’s border after being found to contain excessive pesticide residue, Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA) quoted the country’s Food and Drug Administration (TFDA) on Tuesday.

The 38,400 kilogrammes of black sesame seeds, imported by Kaohsiung-based Long Weleare Industry Co, were seized after sample testing of the shipment sent for examinations on Dec 15 detected 0.06 parts per million (ppm) of phosphine, exceeding the allowable limit of 0.01 ppm.

The product has been returned to the country of origin or destroyed, the TFDA said.

Phosphine is a colourless gas used as a fumigant for stored grains, TFDA Deputy Director-General Lin Chin-fu said at a press briefing.

Because of the violation, the first by the importer, the rate of inspections on its future shipments will be raised from the current rate of 2-10 per cent to between 20 per cent and 50 per cent, according to Lin.

Yang Chen-chang, a toxicologist at Taipei Veterans General Hospital, said phosphine is a chemical commonly used for fumigation to control pests in stored grains and seeds.

Since it takes a long time to ship bulk grain cargo to Taiwan by sea and insects and pests can infest grain in storage and shipment, fumigation is usually performed after arriving in Taiwan and before the cargoes are sent to granaries, to eliminate insects, Yang said.

Inhaling high concentrations of phosphine can cause gastrointestinal disorders, bronchitis and pulmonary edema and can even lead to death, Yang said.

The black sesame seeds, along with 12 other product shipments such as fresh white truffles from Italy, fresh grapes from South Korea, and lion’s mane mushrooms from China, were seized due to excessive agricultural chemicals or non-compliance with regulations on imported food inspections, as per the agency’s weekly report on intercepted imports.