Taiwan is set to revert to adopting a maximum residue level (MRL) for ractopamine — a feed additive for hog and cattle production — to resolve a major trade dispute with the US, a Council of Agriculture (COA) official said yesterday.
Ractopamine, a growth promoter that increases lean muscle mass in livestock, has been banned in the country since Oct. 11, 2006. Taiwan notified the WTO on Aug. 16, 2007, of its intention to establish an MRL for ractopamine, but it has not implemented the policy because of opposition from local hog farmers.
Taiwan began testing US beef for ractopamine in January last year, prolonging a suspension in talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement that had been in place since 2007, when Taiwan banned US beef imports because of mad cow disease concerns.
There has been no order from the top yet on removing ractopamine from the list of prohibited drugs in food animals, but “it’s about time,” said Hsu Tien-lai (許天來), director of the council’s Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine.
“I believe it will happen,” Hsu told reporters yesterday morning. “The COA will be prepared for the policy change.”
Department of Health Deputy Minister Hsiao Mei-ling (蕭美玲), who is in charge of determining the highest acceptable level of residues in food, also hinted at the possibility of revising the zero-tolerance policy for meat with traces of the substance.
“We are at the juncture where we have to decide on the issue,” Hsiao said, adding that an MRL for ractopamine could be promulgated within a month after the council’s decision.
However, when asked for comment later yesterday, incoming COA minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) told the Taipei Times that what Hsu said was his “personal views” and that “the issue hasn’t been discussed in the new Cabinet,” which will take over on Monday.
Lifting the ban on ractopamine in beef is not yet a policy set in stone, Chen said.
“During my meeting with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) this morning, he said he does not take a one-sided position with a plan to lift the ban on ractopamine,” Chen said.
Lawmakers offered mixed views on the issue.
“We cannot escape this issue because it is a key concern to US-Taiwan relations,” Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus whip Lin Hong-chi (林鴻池) said.
Lin pledged that food safety and public health would take precedence over all other concerns in deciding its stance on the issue.
People First Party Legislator Thomas Lee (李桐豪) said the Ma administration should explain its interest in the issue now that the election is over.
If the government were to allow some ractopamine residue in beef, it will have to ensure that the meat products would be safe for human consumption and that it would have in place effective measures by which the government can help consumers claim compensation if health problems arise, Lee said.
“Has there been any change in the situation that requires us to change our health and sanitation standards?” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spokesman Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政) asked.
Lo and fellow DPP spokesman Lin Chun-hsin (林俊憲) said that the legislature already discussed the US beef issue in 2009 and even voted for an amendment to the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法).
“Is Ma attempting to change, or even overthrow the amendments to the Act Governing Food Sanitation from 2009 by bringing up the US beef issue right after the presidential election?” Lin asked.