Legalization of the animal feed additive ractopamine and the ensuing lifting of a ban on US beef imports with residue of the additive are likely to be the first hotly debated issues in the new legislative session, which begins on Friday.
Many lawmakers from across the political spectrum are opposed to loosening restrictions on the drug, which promotes leanness in animal meat, and the related proposition of lifting a ban on imports of US beef containing residue of the drug.
Although the government has said it has no fixed position on the issue, the opposition has said that it suspects the ban on US beef imports could be lifted soon because of strong US pressure.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus has long made its opposition to such imports clear, saying that Taiwan should deliberate the issue based on the decision made by the UN Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), which was considering adopting a maximum residue level of 10 parts per billion for ractopamine last year. However, a decision was delayed until this summer.
The drug is currently banned in Taiwan, China, South Korea and the EU, although it is allowed in 26 countries, including the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The DPP says that Taiwan should regulate the maximum residue level (MRL) for ractopamine in accordance with the CAC’s decision, which is expected in July, DPP Legislator Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) said.
A thorough health-risk assessment and public opinion surveys should also be included in the decisionmaking process, Chen added.
DPP Legislator Wu Ping-jui (吳秉叡) proposed settling the dispute on the MRL for ractopamine in imported US beef products by holding a national referendum.
The Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) said it opposed loosening restrictions on ractopamine in all meat products because of the health risks, with party caucus whip Hsu Chung-hsin (許忠信) saying that the party “would voice strong opposition to the very end.”
TSU Legislator Lin Shih-chia (林世嘉) said the party feels that a national referendum could be used as a last resort, but that even if one is held, it could fail to pass because of the high threshold required.
The People First Party (PFP) is also opposed to loosening restrictions, but does not think a referendum is necessary, party caucus whip Lee Tung-hao (李桐豪) said.
The PFP caucus has proposed amending the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法), which would apply the standard regulated by the CAC.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) controls the 113-member legislature with a majority of 64 seats, potentially giving it the power to pass any bill.
However, several KMT legislators have also expressed concerns about the issue, in particular lawmakers from agriculture constituencies in central and southern regions.
KMT lawmakers Yang Li-huan (楊麗環) and Cheng Ru-fen (鄭汝芬) have both proposed amending the Act Governing Food Sanitation to ban ractopamine from all meat products in the market.