Tue, Apr 10, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Our democratic right to food safety

By Chou Kuei-tien 周桂田

The government’s chaotic handling of the three attempts to ease restrictions on US beef imports in 2005, 2009 and this year imply that Taiwan might be forced to forego public health in the face of economic pressure from a domineering power. It makes one wonder if this is how the government handles its core values amid global food safety concerns and international pressure.

The question is whether the state and society in Taiwan are able to conduct self--introspection and construct sustainable management and development values when confronted by major conflicts. Here are a few important points that require the joint consideration of all sectors of society to deal with the ongoing controversy.

The US government has essentially approved the addition of ractopamine to cattle feed because it cannot be immediately proven that the additive’s toxicity over time is harmful to human health. As a result, although the UN has not set a tolerance level for the chemical because it has not been scientifically proven that it is safe, the US government has resorted to diplomatic pressure to demand that country after country open their doors to US beef containing ractopamine residue. This domineering behavior does not live up to the standards of contemporary civilization.

The US’ domestic food security controls are slack because of large-scale lobbying by commercial interests. Data for 2010 from the US’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that every year, 48 million people get sick because of food hygiene problems. This is about one in six Americans. More than 128,000 of them required hospital care and 3,000 died. This costs the US several hundred million dollars annually.

The US is spreading its domestic food safety risk to the rest of the world. Be it genetically modified foods, beef from hormone-fed cattle or beef containing leanness-enhancing additives, so long as there is no clear evidence that it poses a danger to health, the US continues to push other countries in the name of WTO principles.

In the ongoing controversy, the government manipulates experts, while society is taken in by the false impression that economic development stands in opposition to sustainable health concerns.

First, social democracy must be implemented by society as a whole. Even if the government is forced to sign a trade agreement for strategic reasons, the question remains how it should go about reconciling industrial development with public health. What sacrifices should the public make, and what should be its bottom line? If, upon deliberation, the public strongly insists on delaying trade talks with the US, the short-term result would be a strategic need to strengthen economic agreements with other countries. The public’s argument for resisting a domineering power and global food risks would allow both the state and society to resist globalization’s destruction of public health.

Second, both economic competition and food safety risk involve social distribution and risk distribution issues. Once a trade agreement has been signed, the biggest winner will also be the one who is sacrificed. In terms of risk distribution, most people will buy cheaper meat products or meat products with an unclear origin, which could mean that the safety of all meat products would be compromised by the slowly working toxicity of ractopamine, increasing state health expenditures.

This story has been viewed 2279 times.
TOP top