Legislature votes to allow ractopamine

BEEF IMPORT ISSUE::The vote was split along party lines, with KMT legislators voting for the amendment, while DPP, PFP and TSU lawmakers voted against it

By Chris Wang, Shih Hsiu-chuan and Mo Yan-chih  /  Staff reporters

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 - Page 1

The longstanding dispute over the livestock feed additive ractopamine seemed to have been resolved yesterday as amendments to related laws cleared the legislature, paving the way for the partial lifting of restrictions on imports of beef containing residues of the drug.

With a 63-46 vote along party lines, the nation is expected to adopt maximum residue levels (MRL) of 10 parts per million (ppm) for ractopamine, a standard favored by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

The passage of the amendments to the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) means that beef containing ractopamine residues would no longer be banned, a policy that Ma claims has impeded bilateral trade negotiations and relations between Taiwan and the US.

The amendment authorizes government agencies to establish safety standards for ractopamine used as a cattle feed additive, but bans its use on pigs.

The Department of Health is to be in charge of finalizing the safety standards for ractopamine, Executive Yuan spokesperson Hu Yu-wei (胡幼偉) said.

Hu said the department would take the MRL of 10ppm, recommended by the Codex Alimentarius Commission as a reference point.

Forty Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators and three each from the People First Party (PFP) and the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) voted against the amendment.

The DPP and PFP favored a standard stricter than 10ppm, while the TSU insisted on a zero-tolerance policy.

The four principles that Ma pledged would safeguard public health were not written into law, DPP Legislator Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) said.

The four principles are establishing a safe level of ractopamine residue for beef imports; differentiating safety standards for beef and pork products; requiring mandatory labeling of beef products; and maintaining the ban on imports of beef offal from the US.

Instead, she said, the principles of differentiating pork and beef safety standards and mandatory labeling were included in an additional resolution, which would be ineffective because it was not legally binding.

DPP Legislator Pan Men-an (潘孟安) said Ma and the KMT ignored public doubts, in particular those of pig farmers, about the government’s ability to implement the measures, especially differentiating the standards for pork and beef products.

The DPP’s proposal, which called for the adoption of stricter standards than those the commission had approved, was reasonable and made sense, but the KMT blocked the initiative, DPP Legislator Lee Ying-yuan (李應元) said.

The TSU, which had said it did not rule out occupying the podium in the legislature to block the proceedings in order to maintain the zero-tolerance policy, did not disrupt the plenary session yesterday.

With the vote behind it, Ma said the government would seek to resume the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) talks with the US, which have been stalled since 2007, immediately and speed up regional economic integration.

“Resolving the US beef import issue demonstrates our willingness to be part of regional economic integration. Our next step is to resume talks on the TIFA with the US. We cannot afford to wait any longer,” Presidential Office spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi (范姜泰基) said of Ma’s response to the vote.

Ma has linked the US beef issue with the nation’s economic and trade relations with the US and other countries, and argued that resuming TIFA talks and joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership would prevent Taiwan from being marginalized in regional economic integration.

The resumption of the TIFA talks would prepare the terrain for negotiations on free-trade agreements (FTA) or other economic pacts with the nation’s major trading partners, Ma said.

Ma said the government would establish a food labeling system that allows consumers to identify US beef products and to make their own choice, while excluding the import of US beef organ parts.

The government would impose a ban on US beef products immediately if any scientific evidence proved that ractopamine is harmful to human health, he said.

Ma thanked Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and KMT legislators for helping to pass the bill.

“The approval of the bill is a great achievement of the close cooperation of the legislative and executive branches under the KMT’s party-state mechanism,” he said.

Meanwhile, retiring American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director William Stanton said the result was “personally gratifying to me” because he has “dedicated a great deal of effort to see that the Taiwan[ese] market is open to US beef” during his three-year tenure.

“I cannot think of a better conclusion to my tour as director than to have this issue resolved in a positive way,” said Stanton, who is taking a teaching job at the Taipei American School after he retires from a 34-year diplomatic career next month.

Stanton said he “look[ed] forward to enjoying delicious US beef dinners with my many Taiwan[ese] friends in the excellent restaurants here in Taiwan.”

“Today is a good day for Taiwan[ese] consumers, the Taiwan[ese] democratic process, free trade and for US-Taiwan relations,” Stanton said as he thanked the Ma administration, the legislature, academics, businesspeople and the media, who he said “fought to have this issue decided on the basis of international, science-based standards.”

The AIT also issued a short a statement.

“The US welcomes the vote and looks forward to the quick implementation of the maximum residue level for ractopamine and the resumption of expanded access for US beef in the Taiwan[ese] market,” the AIT statement said. “We also look forward to resuming efforts to expand our vital bilateral trade and investment ties that benefit us both.”

AIT spokesperson Sheila Paskman said the institute could not answer how yesterday’s vote would impact on the resumption of the TIFA talks.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Steve Hsia (夏季昌) said the ministry hopes the talks would resume by the end of this year or early next year.