After recent shocking reports that beef imported from Australia and New Zealand contained residues of the feed additive ractopamine, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government provided evidence that products from local company T-Ham tested positive for other toxic feed additives. They have also ordered pig farmers to sign documents promising that they would stop selling pork that contains ractopamine residues.
This led to widespread suspicion that the government was trying to shift attention away from the debate over the importation of US beef, to weaken the legitimacy of the arguments against importing US beef so it could use mass social confusion to cover up its lifting of the ban.
These suspicions are not totally baseless. A few days ago, the government solemnly pledged that it would treat the US beef issue with the same seriousness as it does elections and that it would start handing out fliers containing information on the issue. We have already seen how Ma uses this strategy during elections and how he will resort to any measure when things are not going his way. He sends out mixed signals and contradictory information to confuse the public and weaken his critics.
To ascertain whether any political motivation was behind recent events, it is necessary to look at who commissioned the testing.
First, the test performed on the pigs was done by I-Mei Foods. Who asked I-Mei to do the test? I-Mei Foods says it cannot say who commissioned them. Reports by a certain print media outlet said that it was an animal husbandry interest group from the US.
One of the people to expose the information about tainted pork here was Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Alex Tsai (蔡正元). He said that the issue had nothing to do with the US and that it was a medical unit that commissioned the tests.
Premier Sean Chen (陳冲), on the other hand, says that it was a certain member of the public that he knows personally and who is interested in the issue who sent meat he had purchased for testing. However, other reports have said that I-Mei Foods sent a test report to the Presidential Office on March 4, and sent two further reports on March 7.
What is suspicious is that each version of the story about who sent the meat to be tested presents its own conspiracy theory. That pig farmers protested peacefully means they will go home and make plans for revenge in the future. That’s a simple conspiracy theory.
Another one is that the US wanted to exact revenge and prove that Taiwan’s agricultural products are not “pure” either, so as to weaken opposition to US beef.
The third conspiracy theory is that the government secretly commissioned someone to test pigs from T-Ham to create social unrest and then use this unrest to weaken the extremely damaging effects the US beef debate is having.
These three stories have all deeply hurt the feelings of consumers. What is really disappointing is how the government’s major concern is its opinion poll ratings and the way officials think they can use election tactics to solve the problems around US beef.
This is not what people want. They have already ingested tainted beef and this beef will not lose its taint just because Ma’s people hand out fliers. The government has done nothing to take care of food safety problems — instead, it has gone out of its way to try to brainwash the public. This is a truly worrying attitude for any ruling party to exhibit.
Allen Houng is a professor at National Yang-Ming University’s Institute of Philosophy of Mind and Cognition.
Translated by Drew Cameron