The US is a major beef-producing nation. To lower production costs and maximize their profits, US cattle farmers keep their livestock in crowded pens for a considerable portion of the rearing process. The cattle are fed with surplus corn mixed with a range of food additives designed to increase yields of both beef and milk, including large amounts of hormones and the leanness-enhancing additive ractopamine. The controversy over beef products containing ractopamine residues by-and-large involves US beef, as opposed to that from any other source.
Kept in these crowded pens, cattle have very little opportunity to exercise and it is therefore very easy for them to turn to fat. To help them burn off this excess fat, US cattle farmers put ractopamine in their feed. The additive is essentially a stimulant and it induces weight loss in the animal in much the same way as taking stimulants might in humans.
Residues of the drug are found at higher concentrations in the internal organs of the animal, but Americans do not eat much offal.
Not all US cattle are raised in pens, however. Some of them are raised in open fields and in this case ractopamine is not needed. Beef from cattle raised in this more natural way is relatively more expensive than that from their intensively farmed brethren. The inexpensive, but less healthy beef is eaten by lower-income earners and cash-strapped students.
Beef is much cheaper to produce in the US than it is in Taiwan, so Taiwanese consumers would welcome US beef imports were it not for the food safety concerns. The problem at the moment is that the US is selling low-grade beef banned in Europe to East Asia. Why is it that some Americans are still eating something the Europeans will not touch and why is the US being so insistent on fobbing this meat off on Asia?
The US should conduct a thorough review of how beef meant for human consumption is produced. The Americans themselves also have the right to reject beef associated with such health concerns. They should not allow unscrupulous beef producers and politicians to apply pressure to the US Congress and so blatantly push their own interests in this way. And people living in Taiwan and other Asian countries should certainly not allow themselves to be sacrificed at the altar of US electoral politics.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Taipei City chapter deputy executive Chu Cheng-chi (朱政騏), who ate a “cow dung hamburger” to protest US beef imports, plans to form a group to petition the US Congress, and wants Japanese and South Korean civic groups to join. Indeed, we should let the US know how these dubious beef producers and politicians are making money out of selling meat that could pose a risk to the health of both Asians and Americans, harming the reputation of the US in the process.
I would like to take this opportunity, if I have the attention of members of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and its chairman, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), to suggest it might be better, if they truly want to launch a large-scale debate on the US beef issue, to take it to the US Congress and the US media.
Tseng Chien-yuan is an associate professor at Chung Hua University’s department of public administration.
Translated by Eddy Chang