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September 24, 2017

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GM foods banned from school menus

TAIPEI, Taiwan--Schools nationwide are prohibited from providing genetically modified foods to students, according to the latest bill passed by the Legislature on Monday.

According to the Ministry of Education (MOE, 教育部), the new regulations would take effect next semester at the earliest, and students would likely be seeing a price hike of around NT$5 per meal.

The latest amendments to the School Health Act (學校衛生法) are aimed at all school meal providers, to ban genetically modified raw ingredients and any processed foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from school menus.

The ban would affect the selection of ingredients often used in school lunches in the past, including soybeans, corn, salmon, tofu, and soymilk.

The new law would apply to cafeterias and food stands in high, middle and elementary schools, said a ministry official.

Government subsidies for underprivileged students' school meals are expected to increase approximately NT$235.8 million per year, when calculated from a NT$5 price hike for 262,000 people, said the official.

When asked what the punishment would be for violating the new laws, the official said there are no stated penalties at present, but the MOE will ask the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW, 衛福部) to provide guidelines for schools and food suppliers to follow.

Random Spot-checks

Authorities would have to conduct random inspections of 30 percent of all school lunches in the country, at least once per year, in order to ensure the hygiene of cafeterias and kitchens, according to the new laws.

Also, a new regulation requires a quarter of seats at "school lunch committees" to go to parents of registered students at the school, so parents would have sufficient opportunities for providing feedback.

Also, the MOHW stated all restaurants will be required to display GMO labels, starting the end of this year.

Anti-GMO Movement

Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬), an advocate for passing the bill, said that studies abroad have shown a high connection between the consumption of GM foods and the prevalence of allergies, autism and rare diseases.

"Soy is a major ingredient in Taiwan's school lunches," said Lin. "Genetically modified soy has been shown to contains toxic residue from pesticides."

Thought the amendment has been passed, it would need the support of education, health and agriculture ministries to ensure the bill is implemented on every level, stressed Lin.

Recounting how school meals went into the spotlight of public attention, Lin said it was a bottom-up process, starting with Homemakers United Foundation's (主婦聯盟基金會) attempt to raise awareness on the issue. Later, agricultural associations and local governments joined in the movement.

"The passing of this bill not only means our children will be eating more safely, but it also indicates a heightened understanding of food safety in our society," said legislator Lu Shiow-yen (盧秀燕).

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