Taiwan turns to traceability to fight counterfeit tea

Taiwan is a major source of tea, accounting for around a fifth of the world's consumption of oolongs, and that has made it a big target for counterfeiters.

Adulteration of Taiwanese tea by mixing it with lower quality, imported leaves has become such a problem that the country's agriculture ministry has now mandated a traceability system to prevent them from being passed off as locally-cultivated harvests.

The move has been taken to "enhance consumers' trust in domestic tea products and prevent false origin labelling," according to the Agriculture and Food Agency (AFA).

A study carried out between September 2021 and February found that 36 of 183 samples of domestically-grown teas were adulterated with imported material.

When fully implemented, the system will require origin information will be required for domestic tea products, which can include serial numbers and/or QR barcodes.

The Taiwan government set up the underlying standards and authentication system of its Traceable Agriculture Product (TAP) platform in 2007. It was piloted on mangoes destined for export markets a few years ago, and since then has been voluntarily adopted by producers in a number of food categories, including tea.

Use was mandated by the authorities earlier this year for washed eggs (see main image, courtesy of the Council of Agriculture), and will be extended to unwashed eggs in future, and tea is only the second category in which traceability will be required by law.

"In order to protect the rights and interests of agricultural product operators and consumers, the traceability and labelling system related to domestic tea should be applied as soon as possible," said the COA in a statement on the plans.

The announcement is open to a comment period which completes in 30 days (September 14).

A report by Taiwan News notes that earlier this month a tea dealer was detained by the authorities on suspicion of adulterating Taiwanese tea with lower priced tea from Vietnam, and selling it to customers in Taiwan and China via e-commerce platforms like Shopee and Alibaba's Taobao.

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