Documents from the Codex Alimentarius Commission regarding safe levels of residues of the leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine in meat show the commission’s discussions have centered on scientific evidence, contradicting claims by officials from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government that the issue has been affected by protectionist trade interests.
Government officials recently made repeated attempts to decouple the proposed plan to accept an allowable level of ractopamine residues in US beef imports from the highly likely event that the Codex could once again fail to ratify a proposed residue standard when the UN’s food safety agency meets on July 2 for its annual session.
Characterizing the issue as “a trade war” between the US, an active proponent of the use of ractopamine mainly in cattle and pigs, and the EU, leading a strong opposition to it, officials led by Executive Yuan spokesperson Hu Yu-wei (胡幼偉) said that discussion of ractopamine at the Codex was not and would not just be about science and health.
The claims were not confirmed by the Codex’s official record of proceedings of meetings at which the issue had received extensive discussions over the years involving many countries of the 185-member organization.
Since the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), which serves as a scientific advisory body to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the WHO, advanced its draft study on maximum residue levels (MRLs) for ractopamine to the Codex commission for adoption in 2008, the final step in the eight-step Codex approval process, the proposal has been held for four consecutive years.
The reasons the EU opposes the adoption of the draft MRLs were mainly articulated in its report conducted by the European Food Safety Authority to review the JECFA study.
Presented to the Codex commission at its session in 2010, the EU report concluded that it was impossible to derive an accepted daily intake from the data submitted by the JECFA and that therefore no proposal for MRLs could be made.
The EU repeatedly underlined that it highly respected the work of the JECFA, but could not ignore the opinions provided by their own risk assessment body, which is at the basis of their food safety system established according to the principles of risk analysis.
China, also a strong opponent of the use of ractopamine, first reported on its residues studies to the Codex commission in its 2009 session, saying it was very cautious in this regard because it had seen cases of food poisoning from the consumption of tissues containing residues of beta-agonists, the class of drug to which ractopamine belongs.
Studies conducted by China showed residue levels in muscle, liver, kidneys, and lungs exceeded the draft MRLs proposed by the JECFA and emphasized that internal organs are regularly consumed in China and other Asian countries.
The Codex documents showed that countries joining the EU and China in opposition to the draft proposal were Norway, Kenya, Singapore, among others.
At the 2008 Codex session, Singapore expressed its concerns over relying on veterinary drugs rather than fostering genetic improvements to increase gross weight and leanness of livestock, one of various delegations that noted that veterinary drugs should be used only when necessary, and taking into consideration aspects of animal health and animal welfare.