Thu, Feb 23, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Media in a conspiracy of silence over US beef

By Du Yu 杜宇

The issue of whether the government is to allow imports of US meat containing ractopamine residue has ramifications not only for the survival of the domestic husbandry industry, but also for public health. As such, one would think it more important than the nation’s current preoccupation with the Makiyo affair.

Despite the importance of the issue, we have seen little news of the government producing any scientific evidence showing that ractopamine is harmless to humans. Instead, we have been fed diversionary fluff.

Most media outlets have provided little information on ractopamine. Even some outlets that pride themselves on being fair and just have spent the past week or so discussing the Makiyo affair and have not mentioned the ractopamine issue, which concerns the entire nation.

Whether this is because the government would prefer to keep the meat import issue quiet for the moment or because there is some other agenda behind it all is difficult to tell, but the public needs to know what is happening.

Second, there are the civic groups which have always been very vocal about food safety and in which the public places its trust. They have, on this occasion, chosen to be virtually silent over ractopamine, brushing it aside as if it were of no real consequence.

This is hardly reflective of the public mood and shows nothing of the energy previously shown in protesting against US beef imports. These groups should really come out and speak up, or people might come to the wrong conclusions.

Next, it is abundantly clear that the government has its mind set on allowing imports of meat with ractopamine residue, and this is sure to be a major blow to the domestic husbandry industry. For this reason there is a mass march planned in Taipei next month, to be held outside the government institutions involved, such as the Council of Agriculture and the Department of Health.

Whether the purpose of this trip is to hold a “demonstration” or a “protest” is a matter of disagreement between senior figures in the Republic of China Swine Association. This is sure to affect the degree of support the action receives and some even suspect the hand of the government behind this.

Those involved should reach consensus on the issue and make it known that they have done so. After all, nobody is going to listen to what they have to say if they are not clear on this themselves, and there is no point setting out on a march until they have, if they want to achieve anything by it.

Government officials keep telling us that there are no plans to allow ractopamine, and that no timetable has been set. Everyone, from the minister to officials lower down, is saying that ractopamine really is not all that toxic and after a decade or so of it being used, no reports have been published linking it to harmful effects in livestock or human beings. There is no evidence of effects among US consumers after more than 10 years of eating food containing the additive.

Officials here seem to be quite happy to ease restrictions on US beef imports. If this does happen, the public will lose faith in the government.

Then there are the considerations of the husbandry industry and public health. The government should announce that companies should do their utmost not to use chemical additives, antibiotics or hormones, to avoid harming the public and the environment. How the government can say that relaxing these rules is conforming to global trends, or that it is for the benefit of the domestic husbandry industry, is beyond undertsanding.

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