Wed, Mar 14, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Beef controversy a political issue

By Chen I-chung 陳宜中

Who knows whether this is actually the case. The “three management and five checkpoint” measures have not been entirely successful, and US beef containing traces of ractopamine has continued to find its way into Taiwan despite the prohibition. If the government does end up lifting the ban and allowing US beef with under 10ppb of ractopamine residue to be legally imported into Taiwan, it is by no means sure how much US beef producers will actually gain as a result.

Both the EU and China ban lean meat additives. The US has pressured the EU on the issue to no avail and has been equally unsuccessful with China — and yet it continues to keep up the pressure on Taiwan, which is in a much weaker position. And therein lies the crux of the whole issue.

Taiwanese have borne the brunt of a litany of health scares without making too much of a fuss for ages now, so why all this resistance to US beef imports? One explanation is that, in politics, it is one thing to accept one kind of health risk, and an entirely different matter to have a foreign power force us, through a mixture of intimidation and incentive, to swallow another (real or imagined, as the case may be).

The lean meat additive issue is not about scientific proof, but a political test of how the government deals with pressure from a major foreign power. An issue as seemingly minor as this one has the government falling all over itself trying to please the US rather than trying to persuade it otherwise. This does not bode well for how the government will bear up under greater economic or political pressure on other issues from the US or China in the future.

Chen I-chung is an associate research fellow at the Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences at Academia Sinica.

Translated by Paul Cooper

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