Mon, Jul 30, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Farmers must take brave stand

By Lee Wu-chung 李武忠

The government has successfully amended the law to relax legal restrictions on beef imports containing residue of ractopamine. Considering the entire process surrounding this heated dispute, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration really needs to take a moment to reflect and make improvements.

The government has repeatedly promised to ensure clear labeling of beef products so that consumers can avoid buying and eating certain products. This may seem feasible enough, but with the abundance of marketing channels and an inefficient government, implementation will prove difficult and it will be pretty much impossible for the public to put their minds at ease.

If the government wants to control every domestic distribution link for beef containing the leanness-enhancing drug, it must enforce strict labeling of beef so that consumers have a choice, it must also implement a system for tracking beef products, issue heavy fines to retailers and suppliers violating regulations and should ensure repeat violators are held criminally liable. These measures are necessary if the government wants to regain the public’s trust. More importantly, they are all in line with international standards.

Since the UN’s Codex Alimentarius Commission voted to pass maximum residue levels (MRLs) of ractopamine and the government has guaranteed that beef and pork will be handled separately, it would be difficult for farmers to regain the openness of the past simply by taking to the streets to voice their dissatisfaction.

Apart from waiting for the next election to show the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) the consequences of not listening to majority opinion, the farming industry could use the way in which controls on beef were relaxed as a bargaining chip during upcoming international trade negotiations. If Taiwan’s farmers do not want to be exploited, they have to break away from this protectionist government and the temptation of China’s policy-driven purchases of Taiwan’s surplus agricultural products. Taiwan’s farmers need to become self-reliant.

As cheaper foreign agricultural products put more pressure on the domestic agriculture market because of free-trade agreement talks, coupled with the government’s habitual use of short-term subsidies to save farmers, Taiwan’s agriculture industry is facing a gradual demise. The only choice farmers have is to rely on themselves to survive with dignity. The power of the individual certainly has its limits, but the power of dozens or hundreds of farmers working together would definitely be a force to be reckoned with, and it would also alter the tragic fate Taiwan’s farmers have been assigned to for so long, while also shaking up things in Taiwan’s agricultural policy department.

Food safety concerns have already become a sort of global mindset and this offers a critical opportunity for Taiwanese agriculture that has been restricted by its small-scale operations for so long. Taiwan’s farmers have traditionally fended for themselves at the individual level, with some engrossed in a pursuit of their own ideals, making it difficult to deal with competition from large-scale farmers. Farmers need to be intrepid in freeing themselves from the shackles of a reliance on the government when dealing with outside competition and make food safety a universal motto for Taiwan’s farming industry.

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