【GUAM NEWS FACTOR】Betel Nut Rut: Guam Pastime Faces 'Payback Time' In Taiwan
Nation's Biggest Cash Crop May Get Taxed For Disaster-Prone Planting Methods
By Jeff Marchesseault
GUAM - Chewing a certain mildly narcotic palm nut is an time-honored pastime in Guam and a way of life for many islands across the Pacific. And it has become such a lucrative cultural phenomenon in Taiwan, at least two feature films have been made on the subject over the last ten years.
But, all pop artistry, lore and tradition aside, the never-ending party may soon face the sobering dictums of social accountability in the Republic of China. Taiwan's hot, sexy betel nut industry is now under scrutiny for causing environmental degradation. And reformers want to exact their toll.
Unlike betel nut sales on Guam -- where the population is smaller, chewers are fewer, and competition is less intense -- in Taiwan the betel nut trade is big business. So big that the $620 million industry flourishes under a government that allows illegal growing on public lands. It also apparently does little to regulate a traditional marketing gimmick in which attractive, scantily clad young female clerks package the product behind neon-lit glass kiosks along city streets while hawking the little green nuts to motorists and wearing nothing more than see-through lingerie.
But if Taiwan's progressives have anything to say about it, the bountiful harvest could soon get a big bite in the booty. According to an article appearing in The China Post recently, Minister of Agriculture Chen Wu-hsiung says that if a proposed health tax on betel nuts is levied, part of the revenue "should be put toward a sustainable land development fund."
that land leased by the Council of Agriculture (COA) for forestation has long been used to cultivate betel nuts and that the COA should contribute part of any betel nut tax revenue to the sustainable land development fund, as a means of 'righting that wrong'.
Ting says that betel nut groves engulf more than 50,000 hectares of land throughout Taiwan, making it the nation's biggest cash crop. He also says that while the plantations may be profitable for a chosen few, their black market agribusiness makes the properties mudslide-prone because betel nut palms have a very shallow root system.
This accusation is made all the more poignant as a result of recent flooding, mudslides, death and disaster in the nation.
Finally, the lawmaker asserts that it's high time for growers to start paying their fair share of the government's revenue-draining health care bill. Five thousand new oral cancers and 2,300 oral cancer deaths are reported in Taiwan every year. And The China Post reports the considerable losses come "primarily as a result of betel nut chewing."