Thu, Aug 16, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Officials backtrack on ractopamine ban

TELLING PORKIES? Health officials denied that the decision to drop a ban on pig feed additive had been influenced by a desire to smooth the way for US pork imports

By Angelica Oung  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Council of Agriculture (COA) issued a statement yesterday announcing that the ban on the use of the pig feed additive

ractopamine would soon be lifted. However, no firm dates have been set for the lifting of the ban. Department of Health (DOH) officials said the department is ready to put in place maximum allowable residue levels for ractopamine as soon as the COA unbans the

substance."

The move represents a dramatic turnaround as officials said earlier this month they would crack down on the use of the additive.

DOH officials said a consensus was reached after a panel of 19 experts were consulted on the safety of ractopamine use.

"In the end, we have to respect the opinion of experts on food safety," said Huang Kuo-ching (黃國青), head of the Animal Health division at the council's Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine.

The DOH said the proposed maximum allowable residue levels in pork and beef were 10 parts per billion (ppb) for muscle and fatty tissue, 40ppb in liver and 90ppb in kidney.

However, Huang said the COA had not set a firm date for the lifting of the ban. The DOH, in turn, said it could not finalize the allowable residue limit for ractopamine while the ban is still in place.

Ractopamine, an additive used to promote the growth of lean meat, became an issue last month when two shipments of US pork were found to contain residues of less than 1ppb of the banned substance. Marketed under the trade name "Paylean" by pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, the additive is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Subsequent testing of domestic pork revealed the presence of ractopamine in three out of 43 samples, the Bureau of Food Sanitation (BFS) said.

On Aug. 4, Yeh Ying (葉塋), deputy director of the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, said the bureau would seek the amendment of the law to impose harsher penalties for the use, manufacture or distribution of ractopamine.

BFS Director Cheng Huei-wen (鄭慧文) denied charges that pressure had been brought to bear by US interests to lift the ban on ractopamine in order to smooth the way for continued US pork imports.

Cheng also denied that footage broadcast by CTI-TV showed American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) personnel visiting the BFS office yesterday.

"Those were not AIT personnel at all, but representatives of an American rice grower's association," he said, adding that AIT personnel last visited the BFS office on Aug. 2.

Objecting to the decision to lift the ban, the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) caucus yesterday urged Cheng to step down and threatened to freeze the BFS' budget.

"Ractopamine is banned in about 160 countries. Only 24 countries permit its use," TSU Legislator Yin Ling-ying (尹伶瑛) said.

"Some people claim the nation should lift restrictions on ractopamine in order to be `connected to the world,' but the TSU caucus believes the regulation should not be relaxed because we have to safeguard the rights of consumers," Yin said.

Yang Her-pei (楊河北), a representative of a local pig farmers' association, said he could not understand why the DOH planned to lift the ban when there was evidence that ractopamine posed a health threat.

"China and the European Union also forbid the use of ractopamine ... It is very hard not to speculate that the DOH wants to lift the ban to benefit US pork exporters," he said.

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