Civic groups urged lawmakers yesterday to back a preliminary decision by a legislative committee to maintain a ban on imports of US beef found to contain residues of the livestock feed additive ractopamine, despite a Cabinet proposal to allow such imports.
“Safeguard our citizens’ health and say no to lifting the ban on ractopamine,” representatives from several groups shouted in front of the Legislative Yuan.
Holding placards bearing the pictures and telephone numbers of caucus heads prepared to allow the imports, Lu Mei-luan (呂美鸞), secretary-general of the Homemakers’ Union and Foundation, said the public’s concerns should be addressed.
During a recent meeting of the legislature’s Social Welfare and Environment Hygiene Committee, seven opposition legislators voted in favor of a proposal to maintain the country’s zero-tolerance policy on ractopamine, while six Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers supported a Cabinet bill that would allow controlled levels of ractopamine in imported beef.
“Calls should be made to encourage lawmakers who stand on the side of the people,” Lu said.
According to the results of a poll conducted by the Democratic Progressive Party in February, 80 percent of Taiwanese do not believe ractopamine consumption is risk-free for human health.
The US relies on scientific findings to support its stance on allowing limited ractopamine levels, and bases its arguments on this.
KMT caucus whip Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) has said that the proposal would not be finalized until it passes the full legislature, and has suggested that more efforts would be made to lobby for imports of beef containing ractopamine residue.
The protesters ask that records of multi-party negotiations be published to prevent exchanges of interest between the different parties. Some expressed concern that the negotiations, if withheld from the public, could become a “black box operation” in which the people’s well-being might be neglected or even sacrificed.
Taiwan first banned beef imports from the US when a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, was reported in Washington State in December 2003. It reopened its doors to imports of boneless US beef from cattle aged under 30 months in April 2005. It imposed another ban in June of that year, when a second US case was reported.
Imports of boneless beef from cattle aged under 30 months were resumed in 2006, and imports of bone-in beef were resumed in late 2009, but Washington has been pressing for a wider opening and, more recently, has lobbied strongly for Taiwan to lift its ban on beef containing ractopamine residue.
A delegation of health and agriculture officials is currently in the US for talks with officials following a case of mad cow disease in California late last month.
On Tuesday, it asked to be allowed to inspect inspect beef slaughterhouses and processing plants in several states.