Experts attending an ad hoc meeting on Tuesday to address the health risks of ractopamine said Taiwanese eat more internal organs compared with US and European meat consumers, so an evaluation of the local population is necessary before the government can consider lifting the ban on ractopamine residues in meat.
Lucy Sun Hwang (孫璐西), a professor at National Taiwan University’s Institute of Food Science and Technology, said that many of the experts in the forum acknowledged the need to review the drug’s effects based on the eating habits of Taiwanese.
Most participants were not doubtful about the drug — they were more focused on the need for a long-term safety evaluation study, she said.
With one in five people in the world consuming meat containing ractopamine residues, some experts believe that it is convincing enough evidence of the drug residues’ minimal side effects, said Wu Ming-ling (吳明玲), a doctor at Taipei Veterans General Hospital.
Washington has been pressing Taipei to relax its ban on imported meat containing ractopamine residues, which was imposed in 2006.
Last year, after Taiwan blocked shipments of US beef containing residues of the lean-meat enhancing chemical, the US extended the suspension of talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) between the two sides.
Amid speculation that the government might ease its ractopamine residue ban as a result of US pressure, local cattle and pig farmers and the Consumers’ Foundation have threatened to stage a protest in Taipei later this month.
In its first term, the Ma administration was reluctant to give way on the issue, saying that ractopamine posed health risks to humans.
In related news, an animal rights activist said yesterday that the dispute between Taiwan and the US on the use of ractopamine is not only a matter of politics, diplomacy and trade, but also of animal welfare.
Amid the heated debate on whether Taiwan should allow residues of the feed additive in beef imported from the US, the health risks to the animals being fed the drug are being neglected, said Wan Chen-jhen, director of the Life Conservationist Association’s Animal Protection Education Project.
Whether ractopamine causes discomfort in animals is a subject ignored so far by the government, Wan said.
Liou Pei-pai (劉培柏), a former head of the Council of Agriculture’s Animal Health Research Institute, wrote in an opinion piece in local media on Sunday of the potential dangers of the drug on animals, including behavioral change, anxiety, heart palpitations and sudden death.
There is a need to raise public awareness of the rights enjoyed by animals reared for economic purposes, including taking their quality of life into consideration when designing agricultural policies, Wan said.
Pan Han-shen (潘翰聲), an environmentalist and a member of the Green Party Taiwan, said that if ractopamine is not an essential element in animal-rearing, then there is no reason why the government should allow it.
Politics has complicated the issue, however, Pan said.
The use of ractopamine in animal feed is currently allowed in 20-plus countries, but banned in the EU, China and Taiwan among other countries. The US first approved it for pig rearing in 1999.