Hog farmers yesterday warned of protests as the government mulled the possibility of easing restrictions on the import of meat products containing the controversial feed additive ractopamine.
At a provisional meeting called yesterday amid escalating concern over the possibility of opening the country to US beef from livestock fed with the lean-meat enhancing drug, the Republic of China Swine Association (ROCSA), a nationwide association of pig farmers, reaffirmed its opposition to removing the ban.
“We are dead set against the use of ractopamine. If the government decides to lift the ban regardless of our opposition, we will take to the street in protest. Funds and plans are in place for protests,” association deputy director Lin Chiu-kuei (林秋桂) said.
Lin said the ROCSA would collaborate with the Republic of China Cattle Association and consumer protection groups to advocate maintaining the zero-tolerance policy against the use of ractopamine.
“To ensure that we produce and deliver only high-quality pork products, we must exercise -discipline and refrain from using any kind of growth-enhancing agent in production, including ractopamine. We hope that the government would respect our opinion,” she said.
Lin dismissed allegations that local pig farmers had been illegally using ractopamine.
“It’s true that there have been cases where some farms were found to have illegally used ractopamine, but those were farmers accidentally using hog fodder mixed with the substance,” she said.
Whether to allow imports of US beef from livestock with traces of ractopamine has been a long--running trade dispute between Taiwan and the US.
The feed additive has been widely used by US ranchers to promote lean meat since the US Food and Drug Administration classified it as safe 13 years ago and set a level of acceptable residues in meat. It has also gained approval as a safe animal feed in 25 other countries.
However, more than 150 countries still prohibit the use of ractopamine. The EU and China’s strong opposition to a move by the Codex Alimentarius to establish maximum residue levels for ractopamine has prevented the international food safety regulator from adopting the standard since 2008.
The Council of Agriculture -recently suggested two twin-track approaches to deal with the issue: easing the ban on imports of beef that contain the substance, while keeping in place the ban on such pork imports; or allowing meat with acceptable traces of ractopamine to be imported into the country, while continuing to prohibit local farmers from using the feed additive.
Chen Wu-hsiung (陳武雄), the outgoing Council of Agriculture minister, said at his farewell party yesterday that “the agriculture issue should not become a stumbling block to the country’s trade liberalization,” echoing a statement by American Institute in Taiwan Chairman Raymond Burghardt when he addressed the issue in Taipei earlier this week.
Premier-designate Sean Chen (陳冲) yesterday also spoke in favor of lifting the ban.
“Ractopamine has the least toxic potential out of a total of more than 20 types of lean-meat enhancing agents and there has been no record showing it has caused harm to the human body,” he said.
The Executive Yuan will designate a minister without portfolio to coordinate with the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Council of Agriculture and the Department of Health to thoroughly discuss the issue with civic groups, using international norms as a reference, he said.