Taiwan is tackling a recent ban on its grouper exports to China by increasing its funding for school lunches so that students can have at least one fish meal per month, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said July 21.
An MOE proposal to hike its school lunch funding by NT$600 million (US$20.03 million) was approved earlier in the day by the Cabinet, and the money will be allocated from the budget for the current fiscal year, Education Minister Pan Wen-chung (潘文忠) said.
The funds will be disbursed to help provide at least one meal per month containing local grouper, at elementary and junior high schools nationwide, until the end of the year, Pan said.
Currently, not all students in Taiwan have access to the highly nutritional grouper, and that was one of the reasons why the MOE put forth the proposal to fund the inclusion of the fish in school lunches, he said.
Pan indicated that his ministry was also motivated to include the fish on the school lunch menu after Chinese authorities on June 13 imposed a ban on grouper imports from Taiwan due to alleged excessive residues of the antibiotic oxytetracycline and prohibited chemicals.
It is “regrettable” that Taiwan’s high-quality produce and seafood are being subjected to “undue political pressure,” Pan said, joining the pushback by other Taiwanese officials, who have said China’s decision was politically motivated and a violation of international trade rules.
According to Cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng (羅秉成), the increased funding for school lunches will be beneficial to students, as well as to fish farmers who have been affected by China’s grouper ban.
The Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics has already allocated the additional NT$600 million approved by the Cabinet for the increased cost of school lunches, Lo said.
In May, the education ministry increased it subsidies for the inclusion of local produce in school lunches, from NT$6 per meal to NT$10 in urban areas, and to NT$14 in remote areas, according to its data.
In the first five months of this year, 92.75 percent of schools in remote areas were covered by the subsidy program, a sharp increase from 56.45 percent in 2020, MOE statistics show.