Relaxing a ban on US meat products containing the controversial animal feed additive ractopamine poses too much of a risk for the health of Taiwanese, so the government should take time to deliberate on any such decision, academics and civic groups said at a public hearing yesterday.
While the US maintains pressure on Taiwan to open its meat market, scientific data, experiments on the human body and Taiwan’s risk assessment system were not sufficient for a final resolution of the trade spat, they told a hearing organized by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators Pan Men-an (潘孟安) and Yu Mei-nu (尤美女), and Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) Legislator Lin Shih-chia (林世嘉).
“The government should not hold a pre-occupied position on the issue nor keep the public from participating in the decisionmaking process,” Pan said.
There is no need for Taiwan to rush its decision because the international community has yet to reach a consensus on the maximum allowable residue level of ractopamine at the UN Codex Alimentarius Commission, said Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權), a professor at National Taiwan University’s Institute of Occupational Medicine and Industrial Hygiene.
Chan also questioned why Taiwan would rather engage in -bilateral talks on the issue with the US and pass up the opportunity to negotiate under the multilateral framework of the WTO.
The use of ractopamine is risky, in particular in Taiwan, for a number of reasons, said Chou Chin-cheng (周晉澄), dean of National Taiwan University’s School of Veterinary Medicine.
Those reasons include the lack of studies of the effect of ractopamine on the human body and high-risk groups, such as pregnant women and infirm people, Chou said.
Ni Kuei-jung (倪貴榮), a professor at National Chiao Tung University, said the ractopamine issue would not be the only controversial case Taiwan would face if it fails to establish a fundamentally sound risk-assessment system.
Almost all the civic groups at the hearing said they opposed relaxing the ban on foods with residues of the feed additive because of the risks involved.
The information Taiwan’s government and the US have provided does not include Asian food culture in its deliberation, Homemakers’ Union Consumers Cooperative president Huang Shu-teh (黃淑德) said, adding that Taiwan should stand firm when negotiating on the issue.
Homemakers’ Union and Foundation secretary-general Lu Mei-luan (呂美鸞) said the organization opposed opening the nation to ractopamine.
One of the reasons, she said, was the high defect rate of the government’s random inspections on US beef imports.
In addition to the unmeasurable risk that the feed additive poses to human health, relaxing a ban on the drug could also jeopardize the development of Taiwan’s farm produce because other countries would be able to demand the same treatment, said Fu Wei-cher (傅偉哲), a researcher at Taiwan Rural Front.