Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers yesterday suggested placing the US beef issue on top of the agenda for the legislature’s planned extra session, following the Codex Alimentarius Commission decision to allow certain levels of the livestock feed additive ractopamine in beef and pork.
However, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) urged the KMT government to maintain the ban on ractopamine residue in pork imports even if it decides to allow residues of the drug in imported beef products.
The commission voted 69-67 in Rome on Thursday that it was safe to allow certain levels of ractopamine in cattle and pork tissue, including muscle, livers and kidneys.
Before the commission’s decision, civic groups and opposition lawmakers were strongly opposed to easing Taiwan’s ban on imports of beef containing ractopamine residue. However, since the commission’s vote, a softening of that stance with regard to beef has become apparent.
DPP Legislator Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) told a press conference yesterday that in their hearts, DPP lawmakers still support a zero-tolerance policy on ractopamine, but faced with international reality, they would have to revise their stance.
“If the party cannot protect the public’s health 100 percent, at least we should protect it 90 percent,” she said.
DPP Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) said a law should be passed to allow for separate permits for the import of beef and pork — a proposal that was put forward by the government earlier.
Chen also asked the Department of Health to promise that if any member of the public later suffered a health issue as a result of consuming US beef containing ractopamine residue, the department would demand compensation from the US on behalf of the victim or victims.
Meanwhile, People First Party caucus whip Thomas Lee (李桐豪) said that Taiwan must forsake its zero-tolerance policy on ractopamine since the commission has now set standards.
However, his party demanded the government conduct health risk assessment of Taiwanese before it follows the Codex Alimentarius standards, he said.
KMT Legislator Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) suggested placing the US beef issue on top of the agenda in the extra session, ahead of issues relating to a capital gains tax on securities transactions and a confirmation vote on four National Communication Commission (NCC) nominees, which are both controversial.
KMT Legislator Yang Li-huan (楊麗環), on the other hand, insisted that the Executive Yuan go ahead and ease the ban on ractopamine residue in beef imports via an executive order, because it is already within its mandate.
After the Codex Alimentarius Commission’s vote to allow certain levels of ractopamine in meat, Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) called a meeting of the Cabinet, which issued a seven-point statement.
Chen said the government would set allowable levels of ractopamine residue in imported beef by using Codex standards as a reference, while also taking into account local dietary habits, adding that the policy on ractopamine would address the needs of the nation.
The government will adhere to its “four principles” in replacing the zero-tolerance rule on ractopamine: Determine the maximum residue limits (MRLs) for ractopamine in beef imports, differentiate between the safety standards for beef and pork products, require mandatory labeling of beef products and to maintain the ban on imports of beef offal from the US, Chen said.
Under the “four principles,” the government proposed relaxing the ban on ractopamine residue only in beef in recognition of local dietary habits and the potential impact of pork imports with ractopamine residue on the local hog industry, the premier said.
The government will follow the principle of mandatory labeling of beef containing ractopamine residue to ensure that food retailers give consumers the right information about whether ractopamine residue is in their products, he added.
Chen said the government would continue to strictly inspect imported beef lot-by-lot and to step up random testing of imported beef on store shelves, while the National Health Research Institution will monitor possible impact on human health caused by consumption of beef containing ractopamine residue.
President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has pushed for lifting the import ban in hopes that the lingering issue that hindered the resumption of talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement could be resolved soon.
The proposal has met stiff opposition in some quarters.
On May 7, the Legislature’s Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee dealt a blow to the government when it adopted an amendment proposed by the DPP that called for maintaining the zero tolerance policy.
Earlier last month, the opposition lawmakers also staged a five-day legislative boycott to stymie a vote on a law amendment aimed at allowing controlled levels of the drug in US beef imports. The legislature is slated to hold a provisional session from July 25 to July 27.
Additional reporting by Rich Chang and CNA