US beef containing traces of ractopamine — a drug that is likely to cause chronic health hazards in the long run — will soon be imported to Taiwan. Unless a deadly case of acute toxicity is suddenly reported in Taiwan, food safety will soon be threatened, despite President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) claims that people will be safe if they do not buy or eat it.
Ractopamine poses four types of health risk to humans. First, it can cause heart palpitations. It might cause cardiac hypertrophy, heart arrhythmia and even heart failure. It can also be fatal in healthy adults without a history of heart disease.
Second, it can cause increased levels of blood sugar.
Third, it can cause a decrease of potassium ions. For patients with kidney diseases who are incapable of balancing electrolytes and must have regular dialysis, this would mean extended periods of dialysis and their disease could worsen.
Fourth, because the liver in babies under 18 months old is unable to produce enzymes to metabolize ractopamine, the drug would remain in their livers and kidneys, becoming dangerous to their health.
Ma said it would be impossible for Taiwan to join the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPP) if the US does not resume bilateral talks on the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA). The implication is that these talks would not be resumed if Taipei does not relax the ban on beef containing ractopamine residues.
It is hard to estimate the benefits that a TPP would bring to Taiwanese, but what we can be certain of is that the public as a whole will suffer from poor health and this will be a great setback to the nation.
It will be a setback because once a new amendment is passed, ractopamine will no longer be a banned substance and this will bring chaos to Taiwan’s high-quality meat market. Cattle and pig farmers will not have to work as hard as they did before and they will be able to use ractopamine to cut costs. Not only will those pig farmers already using ractopamine continue to do so, other pig farmers will also start using it.
The next setback is that although we know that meat might contain ractopamine, we will still have to eat it. This is because it will be cheaper and because everything is increasing in price while salaries remain stagnant, we will be unable to purchase more expensive and safer meat products.
An even greater setback will be that only people of economic means, which allows them to access safe meat products, will be able to enjoy meat free of ractopamine. When this happens, eating safe meat products will become a special privilege of the bourgeoisie.
Basic human needs such as physical health and food safety will become new social issues, accelerating the arrival of an “M-shaped society” — a polarized society with extremes of rich and poor.
Over a decade ago, when social movements became very popular, I took to the streets. On April 1 this year, I took my children to Taipei to take part in a demonstration about food safety. I did this to emphasize the basic need of having safe food to eat.
On the Web site of global pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co the company talks about how honesty, fairness and respect for others are its core values.
Honesty, fairness and respect for others?
These are just the big words that pharmaceutical companies and politicians use to package the profits they make from the public.
Chang Ming-chun is an executive committee member of the Taichung branch of the Homemakers United Foundation.
Translated by Eddy Chang and Drew Cameron