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Ministry, farmers dispute findings on tainted greens

28 August 2007 (New Straits Times)

KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry, City Hall and Federation of Malaysian Vegetable Farmers’ Association have disputed the findings by Institute for Medical Research (IMR) and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) on contaminated vegetables at the Selayang wholesale market.
They said it was unfair for the study to focus on certain vegetables at the market and conclude that they were tainted.

The Health Ministry’s food safety and quality division director, Dr Abdul Rahim Mohamad, said the ministry was in the dark in regard to the research findings.

The division conducted checks on vegetables at the Selayang wholesale market but did not find contamination levels to be as high as those claimed by IMR and UKM.

The ministry also had not formally received a copy of the report but Dr Abdul Rahim said he had one given to him by a contact.
The New Straits Times report yesterday had, among others, highlighted the high levels of pesticide residue found on vegetables sold at the Selayang wholesale market in Kuala Lumpur.

It was reported that two-thirds of the 93 samples of six popular vegetables were found to be contaminated with at least one kind of pesticide.

Some of the contaminated vegetables were spinach, kangkung, round cabbage and Chinese mustard.

The Selayang market supplies vegetables to about three-quarters of the hypermarkets, wet markets, night markets and grocery stores in Selangor.

City Hall Health Department director Dr Zainol Ariffin Pawanchee questioned the study, saying: "If this was their actual finding, why was the Health Ministry not alerted? It is surprising that the findings were presented in a seminar."

He also said City Hall officers routinely checked food in the market, but did not elaborate if findings were similar to the ones reported by IMR and UKM.

In Muar, Federation of Malaysian Vegetable Farmers’ Association secretary-general Chay Ee Mong said the pesticide residues found on raw and untreated vegetables at the Selayang wholesale market were minimal and the amount would be greatly reduced when the greens were washed, soaked and cooked.

"It is improper to conclude that the whole basket of vegetables was contaminated when only a few raw and untreated vegetables had excessive pesticide residue.

"IMR should get more accurate information from the Department of Agriculture and the Health Ministry, as both parties were monitoring vegetable farming.

"To obtain accurate information, the research should be based on the actual situation.

"Our members have always adhered to good agriculture practice and abided by regulations to ensure all vegetables are safe for consumption," he said.

Its president Tan So Tiok said consumers should disregard the findings of the report as it would only affect the export of vegetables and the country’s economy.

Meanwhile, the Consumers’ Association of Penang has called on the Health Ministry to reveal the detailed sampling, testing plan and results of tests done on the vegetables.

In the meantime, it called on the public to avoid local vegetables until the Health Ministry had given an assurance that vegetables sold in the market were safe for consumption.