Tue, Jul 31, 2007 - Page 3 News List

Pig farmers ask for ban on US pork

HARMFUL ADDITIVE? A drug used to cause pigs to gain lean weight, known in Taiwan as 'lean meat essence,' has turned up in local shipments and those from the US

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Pig farmers protest outside the Legislative Yuan yesterday demanding a ban on imported pork products. Authorities rejected two shipments of pork from the US this month when the banned food additive Ractopamine turned up in them.

PHOTO: AP

Thousands of pig farmers staged a protest outside the legislature yesterday, calling on the government to impose a ban on imports of US pork, some of which has been found to contain traces of the veterinary drug ractopamine.

Less than two weeks after the feed additive, which is banned in Taiwan but not in the US, was discovered in two shipments of pork from the US, a sample of domestic pork was found to be tainted with the same substance on Sunday.

"We are here to tell the public that the qualification rate of domestic pork is more than 99.9 percent. Domestic pork is perfectly safe for consumers," said Pan Lien-chou (潘連周), president of the pig farmers' association.

Pig farmers support the government's strict inspection of the usage of ractopamine in the domestic pig industry. In the meantime, the government has to ban imports of pork from countries where it is legal to use ractopamine, Pan said.

The concentration of ractopamine found in the domestic sample was 0.37 parts per billion (ppb) and that found in the two US pork shipments was 0.15ppb and 0.32ppb.

Ractopamine, also known by its trade name Paylean, is among a family of compounds known as beta-agonists. The Council of Agriculture has banned the use of some beta-agonists as veterinary drugs, including salbutamol, terbutaline and clenbuterol.

Lean weight

But some countries, including the US, allow the use of ractopamine to help hogs put on lean weight quickly, hence its nickname "lean meat essence" (瘦肉精) in Taiwan.

Later yesterday, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Wu Ming-ming (吳明敏) told a press conference the council should revoke its ban on ractopamine.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and the WHO announced in 2004 that the use of ractopamine within 10ppb was permissible, Wu said.

"According to the two international organizations, a person weighing 60kg would fall ill only when he eats 150kg of pork with ractopamine in a day," Wu said.

Wu said the council should bring the ban in line with international standards because Taiwan's pig farmers could lose their international competitiveness.

Beta-agonists

Meanwhile, Yang Chen-chang (楊振昌), a toxicologist at Taipei Veterans General Hospital told the Taipei Times yesterday that while individual responses to beta-agonists such as ractopamine can vary, the concentration of the drug found in the sampled pork was likely too low to have any effect.

"Side effects of ractopamine might include hand shaking and heart arrhythmia," Yang said. "But at concentrations of just a few parts per billion, I don't think eating the pork will cause any problems."

Yang added that beta-agonist drugs such as clenbuterol are used to treat some asthma patients because of their bronchial dilating properties.

"Beta-agonist drugs are typically prescribed in milligrams," Yang said. "This is a far higher dose than consumers might get from eating tainted pork."

Ractopamine

Ractopamine is metabolized relatively quickly, Yang said, but higher levels of residue might remain in some parts of a pig.

"Ractopamine is processed in the liver as it is metabolized, meaning that the concentration in the liver is likely to be higher there than the meat sample suggests," Yang said. "Higher levels of residue might also accumulate in the pig's fatty tissue."

Additional reporting by Angelica Oung

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