Houston, Texas – BPSOS, in collaboration with other leading Asian Pacific American community organizations, will hold two press conferences on Wednesday, October 21, 2009 to discuss the proposed water spinach regulation and its impact on local growers, restaurants, grocery stores, the Asian American community in general, and the State of Texas.
DATE: Wednesday, October 21, 2009
TIME: 11AM (English panel) & 6PM (Vietnamese panel)
State Representative Hubert Vo (D-TX)
Ms. Yani Keo Rose, former president of the Cambodian American Community of Texas
Representatives from the Vietnamese American National Chamber of Commerce and the Asian American Chamber of Commerce of Houston
WHERE: Viet Civic Center (Nha Viet)
11360 Bellaire Blvd. Ste. 900, Houston, TX 77072
Water spinach, or “rau muong” in Vietnamese, is a leaf vegetable used extensively in Malay, Chinese, and Southeast Asian cuisine and part of the staple diet of many Asian Americans. Due to its high growth rate, which has caused it to become an environmental problem, it is listed as a “noxious weed” under the Federal Noxious Weed Act (the term “noxious” refers to its effect on the environment, not to any toxicity). However, many states offer permits due to its importance as a crop for Asian growers and markets.
In Texas, water spinach is a multi-million dollar industry. It has been grown and sold in Texas for the past 30 years and offered as a popular dish in most Asian restaurants. Ironically, it has been listed on the state’s “Harmful or Potentially Harmful Exotic Fish, Shellfish and Aquatic Plants” list, which makes it illegal for anyone to sell, purchase or grow the vegetable.
“Water spinach was listed on the Prohibited Plant Species list because of its weed potential — there was a fear that it would take over native species and clog waterways in Texas,” said Duc Truong, BPSOS Advocacy Coordinator. “However, there are ways to grow this crop responsibly. The species that is being grown in Texas grows in damp soil, not water, so the risk is minimal. Plus, it would never survive the cold winters in Texas in natural water habitats.”
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioners held a hearing in May to discuss a proposal to allow for the sale, possession and cultivation of water spinach provided that it is strictly regulated.
“The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department completed a risk analysis on water spinach and concluded that there is a low risk that it will grow in the wild with little potential for environmental damage in Texas,” said Truong. “The proposed rules set by the Department will allow for the regulation of the vegetable and how to stop an outbreak, if it ever occurred.”
The proposed rules would implement a regulatory system that would require growers to acquire an exotic species permit issued by the department. The rules would also establish standards for growing facilities, require facility inspections, impose recordkeeping and reporting requirements, and prescribe processing and packaging standards, including standards for transportation.
The issue has garnered much concern from the Asian American community, especially Cambodians growers who are directly affected. “We (Cambodian American growers) did not do anything wrong. We have grown water spinach since March 1985, we worked with Commissioner of Agriculture and Commissioner of Land, we leased 62 acres from Texas State Land until 1991 when we had our farmers trained and they bought their own land. We never had any problem,” said Yani Keo Rose, former president of the Cambodian American community and Founder of Cambodian Gardens, a community of Cambodian growers. “Now we have more than 100 farmer families who worry about their livelihood; they are happy that someone is doing something to help them.”
BPSOS supports the newly proposed rules which ensure adequate regulation of “water spinach” while at the same time, protect the livelihood of hundreds of grower families who are directly affected, the economic interests of Asian restaurant businesses, and the cultural norms of our Asian communities.
The Commissioners are expected to vote on the proposed regulations on November 5th.
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Founded in 1980 to rescue Vietnamese boat people at sea, BPSOS (formerly known as Boat People S.O.S.) is a national Vietnamese American community-based organization with 16 branch offices across the US. Our mission is to assist Vietnamese refugees and immigrants in their search for a life in liberty and dignity by empowering, equipping and organizing Vietnamese American communities. Since 1997, BPSOS has developed programs and services to assist local community members in immigration services, financial literacy, health awareness, ESL for naturalization, and other human, social, and educational service programs.
For more information, visit http://www.bpsos.org.