Executive Yuan spokesman Philip Yang (楊永明) yesterday said that nothing has been determined yet by the government pertaining to the thorny issue of US beef imports.
Yang declined to confirm the veracity of a report in the Chinese-language United Daily News that the government would soon lift its ban on US beef under certain conditions, including that warning labels would be carried on packaging telling consumers that the product might contain residue of the leanness-enhancing feed additive ractopamine.
However, he confirmed that the new Cabinet, which was sworn in on Monday, would devote its first inter-ministerial meeting exclusively to the issue, which is now focused on how to deal with ractopamine-tainted US beef.
The meeting of a Cabinet task force, which aims to solve the beef issue, would make its decision based on considerations of professional assessment, risk management and public opinion, Yang said.
The issue is one of the major challenges facing the new Cabinet because of the stakes involved in terms of Taiwan’s trade relations with the US.
Just as it appeared that suspended talks between Taiwan and the US under the bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement would resume in late in 2010 and early last year, Washington decided not to proceed after shipments of US beef exported to Taiwan in January last year were seized by the authorities after they were found to contain traces of ractopamine.
Washington has since pressured Taipei to revise its zero-tolerance policy on the leanness-enhancing drug.
Yang said the government has no preconceptions on the issue and has not set a timetable for its resolution.
Meanwhile the Department of Health said the government could either review its zero-tolerance policy on ractopamine; maintain its ban; lift the ban on beef, but not on pork; or allow ractopamine in meat products as long as it is labeled stating the meat’s place of origin and that the product might contain residue of the drug.
Several veterinary and toxicology experts have noted that small traces of the livestock feed additive in beef pose no health threat unless massive quantities of affected meat are consumed.
Lucy Sun (孫璐西), a National Taiwan University professor of food science and technology, said that even if many academics and doctors have confirmed that ractopamine is a safe, low-risk leanness enhancer, the government should still reassess the “hidden risks” that the drug might pose to consumers.
“Once a green light is given to the opening up, the government should at least require that the meat packaging states the place of origin and that it may contain ractopamine, to allow consumers to make their own choice,” Sun said.