Imported frozen pig kidneys from Canada have recently been found to contain residue of ractopamine, a Department of Health (DOH) official said yesterday.
Feng Jun-lan (馮潤蘭), an official responsible for food safety at the DOH, said 450kg of kidneys, imported by a Taichung City-based food company, were tested on Sept. 19 and found to contain 0.49 parts per billion (ppb) of the drug.
Ractopamine is used legally in some countries, including the US, to promote the growth of lean meat in livestock, but is banned in Taiwan.
None of the kidneys had entered the local market, Feng said.
Taiwan's largest source of offal is Canada, with 17 million tonnes imported every year, according to Feng.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Food and Drug Analysis said yesterday it had found two more cases in which domesticated geese were found to have ingested banned feed additives, including ractopamine.
A sample taken from geese originating from Taoyuan County was found to contain 17.6 ppb of salbutamol, while a sample originating from Chiayi County contained 29.4ppb of ractopamine.
Like ractopamine, which is sold under the trade name Paylean, salbutamol is used to promote the rapid gain of lean weight in animals.
Lin Chieh-liang (林杰樑), a toxicologist at Linkuo Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, said although both salbutamol and ractopamine are both feed additives of the beta-agonist class, salbutamol is more toxic.
All beta-agonists are banned as animal feed additives in Taiwan.
The latest discoveries follow a flurry of tainted food cases.
Strawberries from California have been found to contain the residue of Fenpropathrin, an insecticide used in household bug sprays, and local hairy crabs have also been found to be tainted with nitrofuran, an antibacterial that was banned after studies found it to be carcinogenic.
"I think that these incidents represent the pangs of transition as Taiwan moves to establish a better-regulated food safety system," Lin said.
While some have questioned whether Taiwan's food safety standards have become excessively harsh, Lin said there are plenty of approved insecticides and anti-bacterials for farmers to use.
As for the government's zero-tolerance standards on beta- agonists, Lin said that the high consumption of offal in Taiwan made the use of beta-agonists more dangerous than in the US.
"If the ban is to be lifted, we must first do domestic risk assessments based on domestic levels of consumption and other risk factors," Lin said. "We cannot simply follow the US."